On 7 February 2017 the Government finally published their much anticipated Housing White Paper ‘Fixing Our Broken Housing Market’.
It was hoped that it would result in a step change in the process and procedures slowing the rate of house building. Unfortunately, this isn’t so much a blueprint for a new housing sector but rather a document setting out what might one day go into that blueprint. It is accompanied by some 38 questions which the Government is consulting on until 2 May 2017.
So what do we know:
In terms of local plans, the Government will:
- ‘Insist’ on up-to-date local plans with regulations requiring that plans are reviewed every five years.
- Amend the tests of what is expected of a ‘sound’ plan, to make clear that it should set out ‘an’ appropriate strategy.
- Consult ‘at the earliest opportunity this year’ on a new standard methodology for calculating objectively assessed housing needs. Given the level of debate over the previous year following the LPEG recommendations, it is somewhat surprising the Government have not simply taken this on board to develop a new methodology. The new methodology is expected to be in place by April 2018.
- In a link with the industrial strategy and the devolution deals, amend the NPPF so that LPAs will be expected to identify the development opportunities that infrastructure investment offers and take account of these in the next review of their local plan.
- Change the NPPF to ensure LPAs understand that they should plan proactively for Build to Rent where there is a need.
- Provide further support for new settlements, including proposals to allow for locally accountable New Town Development Corporations.
- Following the independent review on CIL, consider the options for reforming the system and make an announcement at the 2017 Autumn Budget.
In terms of the application process, the Government will:
- Increase set planning fees nationally and, from July 2017, allow LPAs to increase fees by 20% if they commit to invest the additional income in their planning department.
- Amend the NPPF to place (even more) emphasis on using brownfield land for housing and more restrictions on development in the Green Belt.
- Amend the NPPF to promote more efficient use of land.
- Change the application forms to require a ‘start date’ and ‘build out rate’.
- Amend the NPPF to give LPAs the opportunity to have their housing land supply agreed on an annual basis and fixed for a one-year period, echoing proposals suggested last year. However, to take advantage of this, the LPA would need to accept a 10% buffer.
- Amend the NPPF to encourage LPAs to consider how realistic it is that a site will be developed before giving planning permission. The Government is also considering encouraging LPAs to shorten the timescales for developers to implement a permission for housing development.
- Set out a new ‘Housing Delivery Test’. From November 2017, if delivery of housing falls below 95% of the LPAs annual housing requirement, the LPA will be required to publish an action plan. Should it fall below 85%, a 20% buffer should be applied to their five year housing land supply if they had not already done so.
- Amend the NPPF to introduce a clear expectation that housing sites deliver a minimum of 10% affordable home ownership units (e.g. starter homes).
- Change the definition of affordable housing to introduce a household income eligibility cap and a definition of affordable private rented housing, coming into force in April 2018.
- Consult on introducing a fee for making a planning appeal to act as a deterrent for unnecessary appeals.
In terms of ensuring sites with planning permission are built more quickly, the Government will:
- Roll out a streamlined approach to the protected species licensing system to speed up house building.
- Provide guidance to LPAs on using CPOs to support the building of stalled sites.
Whilst many of these suggestions are welcomed, it is somewhat disappointing that despite the considerable amount of consultation undertaken on the planning system in recent years and an Autumn Budget Statement that made clear that the housing crisis desperately needs to be addressed, that no single measure to address the crisis is implemented as part of this Government announcement. With a further round of consultation now open until May, it seems unlikely that we will see any material changes before the Summer. Indeed, many of the proposals will not come into force until April 2018.
There are a number of issues that the White Paper is worryingly silent on.
For example, there is no mention of the impact on land values resulting from a more affordable housing market. While this impact might be considered acceptable by many, for the landowners, the decline in value will likely mean that selling for housing development becomes far less attractive. The Government needs to engage with landowners to ensure that this situation does not occur.
There is also no mention of what measures might be applied to those LPAs that fail to publish a local plan in time for the Spring 2017 deadline. Several LPAs delayed revising their local plans because of the imminent White Paper, apparently on the advice of the DCLG. These LPAs in particular will feel that they have been left high and dry.