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Articles Planning 7th Mar 2017

Housing White Paper Fixing our broken housing market

The Government has recently published its long awaited Housing White Paper. Its name suggests the housing market is broken. Is this the case and will the White Paper fix it?

Four key areas of change are identified as being fundamental to ensuring more homes are built and the housing market is more secure for future generations, with the key points summarised in this update focussing on its proposals to change the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and bring in changes via legislation.

Key Area 1: Planning for the right homes in the right places

  • One of the most important changes is that the Government proposes to put a requirement in place, by legislating through the Neighbourhood Planning Bill, for all areas to have an ‘up-to-date’ Local Plan, and for these plans to be reviewed regularly (at least once every five years). Currently there are 34 local planning authorities which are yet to publish an updated local plan, despite the requirement for an up to date plan being set long ago.
  • Another important change is to simplify how the housing requirement is assessed by laying out a standard methodology for calculating “objectively assessed need”. The Government plans to consult on this early this year, which will then be reflected in changes to the NPPF.
  • There will be a consultation on changes to the NPPF requiring local authorities who are unable to meet all of their housing requirement within their area to work constructively with neighbouring authorities to consider how best to address the remaining requirement. The proposals will consider Statements of Common Ground which will set out how, by working together, authorities can meet the housing requirements and deal with cross-boundary issues.
  • More small and medium sized sites are to be supported for development.
  • More land will be made available through proposals to amend the NPPF.
  • The NPPF will be amended to indicate that greater weight will be placed on the value of using suitable brownfield land within settlements for homes. This is not a change as such, but will strengthen the focus on brownfield sites in order to protect areas such as the green belt.
  • There are proposals to amend the NPPF to give much stronger support for sites which will provide affordable homes and for neighbourhood plans in identifying and allocating housing sites.
  • The Government is eager to maintain the policies in place to protect green belt land and amend the NPPF requiring the impact to be offset through higher contributions collected from developers.
  • The White Paper sets out that land should be used more efficiently by encouraging higher densities, where appropriate (e.g. NPPF amendments for high density urban locations and infrastructure areas). This again is not new, but strengthening the focus on higher densities.

Key Area 2: Building homes faster

  • Greater certainty is to be given to local authorities who have planned for new homes, with alterations to the NPPF to be made to give local authorities the opportunity to have their housing land supply agreed on an annual basis, and fixed for a one year period.
  • Policies will be inserted into the Neighbourhood Planning Bill to tackle unnecessary delays caused by planning conditions which will allow the Secretary of State to prohibit conditions that do not meet the national policy tests and to ensure that pre-commencement conditions can only be used with the agreement of the applicant. This is a proposal that has previously been published.
  • In an aim to speed up the process of house building, the Government intends to strengthen the scrutiny and focus placed on the delivery of sites through amending national planning policy.
  • A new housing delivery test will be introduced which will highlight whether local authorities are meeting their target numbers for house building, provide a mechanism for establishing the reasons why local authorities are falling to meet their targets and, where necessary, trigger a policy response that will ensure that further land comes forward through progressively increasing targets as failure increases.
  • The NPPF currently focuses on the five year housing land supply position. The housing delivery test will provide an additional assessment regarding the actual delivery of housing, rather than just the supply of land.

Key Area 3: Diversifying the market

The Government will consult on proposals to support more build to rent developments by changing the NPPF.

Key Area 4: Diversifying the market

  • The Government intends to make homes more affordable for people trying to get on the housing ladder by increasing supply and encouraging the build of starter homes available to households with an income of less than £80,000 (£90,000 for London).
  • The NPPF will be amended to introduce a clear policy of expectation that housing sites deliver a minimum of 10% affordable home ownership units.
  • The NPPF will also be changed to allow more brownfield land to be released for developments with a higher proportion of starter homes including on brownfield land in the green belt.

Our view

Our overall opinion is that the White Paper promises a revolution and yet its policies do not go far enough to tackle our ‘broken housing market’. A number of measures also appear unrealistic and unachievable for authorities who have suffered significant budget and staff cuts, such as 5 yearly plan reviews when many authorities have consistently failed to review plans over a much longer period. Many of the measures are also subject to further consultations, rather than settled policy as one would normally expect in a White Paper. These measures are inevitably some way off. The consultation on the White Paper closes on 2 May 2017. A link to the Government website is provided: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/housing-white-paper

Robert Bruce

Partner

+44(0) 845 128 6958

robert.bruce@freeths.co.uk


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