07 Feb 2017

#10ThingSH you need to know about the Housing White Paper 2017

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In July 2007, the Labour Government published a white paper1 setting out its vision for "everyone to have access to a decent home at a price they can afford, in a place where they want to live and work". Fast-forward ten years, and Ministers are launching a new set of policies to encourage, well, the same thing: new homes to be built at affordable prices.

DCLG's latest Housing White Paper, "Fixing our broken housing market" has very similar aims to those published in 2007. In her foreword, the Prime Minister notes that, "we need to build many more houses, of the type people want to live in, in the places they want to live."

We wonder which of today's policy measures will make it all the way to the statute book and whether they will be effective; or will we be rewriting this briefing in 2027?

In this note, we set out ten key things that you should know about the 2017 Housing White Paper.

Production Gap

1 The shortage of new homes is getting worse. The Government estimates that we need 225,000 to 275,000 new homes to be built every year. This compares with an average of 160,000 newbuilds per year since 1970. The Government identifies three problems – local councils failing to plan for their housing needs; house building taking too long; and an industry which is dominated by a small number of big players. 

 

The Right Homes in the Right Places

2 Local councils duck the difficult questions on housing, knowing how politically sensitive new developments can be. To tackle the elephant in the room, local authorities will be under a legal obligation to make better plans, for their local housing needs by using a standard and objective methodology. This will make local plans easier to produce and easier to follow. 
The Government hopes that increased transparency around land ownership and control (whether by option to purchase, or the imposition of restrictive covenants) will make it clear where land is available for housing and where land is being 'banked' by developers who are waiting for land values to increase before bringing their sites forward. The Government's aim is to provide a "clear line of sight" across a piece of land showing who owns, controls or has an interest in it. How this data would be used to encourage development is not clear.
Green belt protections will continue to apply: very special circumstances must exist before development can proceed. As is the case now, green belt boundaries can only be adjusted where there are exceptional circumstances and all other options for delivering housing requirements locally have been fully examined. We suspect this leaves the door open for green belt development in future in many parts of the country, particularly in the South-East, although offsite compensatory improvements may be required where green belt development proceeds. 

 

Improve the Planning System to Tackle Slow Delivery

There is an obvious frustration in Westminster with the gap between the number of planning permissions granted for housing and the number of houses that eventually get built. The Government estimates that one in three approved dwellings has not yet been built. Over the years, various steps have been taken to improve the planning system – with some success, but some of the policy measures are aimed at builders, not just planners because the White Paper acknowledges that Britain's ten largest housebuilders are responsible for 60% of open-market housing (i.e. excluding affordable homes).  
Increased capacity and capability will be offered to local authorities – enabling them to process applications for planning permission in a timely and efficient manner. We think that the best new places to live and work come about when local planning authorities have the time to spend working with developers refining schemes, so increasing capacity to process applications will always be a better policy option rather than imposing ever-tighter unrealistic time periods for decision-making. 
Time limits for implementing planning permissions will be reduced from three years to two years – a far cry from the five year period developers enjoyed at the height of the recession. However, there is a big difference between starting works (implementing your planning permission) and completing the works, so more powers to revoke planning permissions may be introduced for developments which have not been finished. To us, this seems like a policy to frustrate development (and developers) rather than to encourage more building. 
 8 Where there is a shortage of development land – for example around transport hubs - developers will be expected to increase housing densities. This will increase the number of dwellings per acre, but will inevitably put pressure on outdoor amenity space. 

 

Help for Smaller Developers and Future Home Owners

9 A Home Building Fund (worth up to £3 billion) will be established to support smaller building firms and to promote modern methods of construction, such as offsite manufacturing which can result in new homes being built far quicker than using traditional methods. 
10 A range of measures aimed at helping would-be homeowners is included in the White Paper. These measures include efforts to crack down on empty homes, doing more to prevent homelessness, and supporting areas most affected by second homes. 

 

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To keep track of further news and insights into planning law issues in the UK, look out for our "Top Ten" series #10ThingsSH and follow us on twitter @SH_EnviroPlan.

1 "Homes for the future: more affordable, more sustainable"

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