The policy announcements focus on delivery, delivery, delivery – but unfortunately the policy and initiatives remain mixed and output stable at best.
A £3 billion Home Building Fund managed by the Homes and Community Agency on behalf of the Government is intended to increase the number of new homes being built in England, providing loan funding as development finance and infrastructure finance. There is an intriguing mention under the eligibility criteria that 'applicants are normally required to have a controlling interest in the land and a clear route to achieving planning consent'.
A clear route to achieving planning permission is the Holy Grail for developers.
In their report Delivering the Value of Planning, the Royal Town Planning Institute found 53% of planners working in England responding that planning reforms have hindered planners in ensuring more housing is built and nearly 70% think they are less able to deliver the benefits of planning compared to ten years ago.
The Autumn Statement added to the push for greater delivery, allied to a housing White Paper continuing the relentless round of planning reforms intended to get more homes built.
In a presentation to the Town and Country Planning Association in October, Sajid Javid said: "The White Paper, that I hope to bring out next month, will seek to make sure that we release land in the right places…include measures to diversify the market…and we must increase the different types of homes, including custom build."
Where houses are built is of course a role of the planning system and how many are built is also partly the product of the planning system – but only in part.
Concerns over land banking has been in the headlines recently, not least following publication of year-end results and trading updates by the largest house builders. Some have interpreted such announcements as admissions that land for thousands of potential homes is being tightly controlled.
Whilst some house builders prioritise margins over volume, which can be viewed as a form of market control, the fuller picture is one of a highly competitive market for residential land in most parts of the country. This means that the cost of holding on to consented land is not attractive.
There is a myriad of reasons for delay in delivery but among the top of the planning list is pre-commencement planning conditions.
There are good reasons to prevent commencement of development for details to be first agreed by the planning authority but this takes thought to decide what is necessary and what is not necessary.
The Government recognised this in the 2016 Budget, announcing its intention to legislate to ensure pre-commencement planning conditions can only be imposed with the agreement of the applicant.
The Neighbourhood Planning Bill seeks to support more housebuilding and provide more local say over development. Many in the industry will consider it is counter-intuitive to expect to increase the delivery of housing whilst increasing local, especially neighbourhood-level, control over development.
A consultation on the proposed measures for pre-commencement planning conditions ended at the beginning of November and so time will tell how responses might shape progress of the Bill which is winding its way through Parliament towards Royal Assent.
Delivery of more housing is a Government priority which is shared by most developers but it takes time for policy to be put into effect and for output to improve.