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Housing White Paper initial analysis

08 February 2017

Housing White Paper Analysis

 

Yesterday the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government announced the publication of the Government's White Paper on housing and planning, designed to address the "broken housing market" and its failure to deliver the numbers of affordable homes needed to house the nation.  

The RTPI welcomes the Government's intention to addresss many of the issues the RTPI has been highlighting as measures needed to address the "broken housing market",  including more comprehensive measures to increase the supply of suitable land available for housing.   RTPI has argued that it is essential that there is greater diversity in the housing market to address the issue of affordability and welcomes the Government’s new focus on a wider range of housing tenures. RTPI welcomes the Government’s intention to join up development with infrastructure, which we have strongly advocated,  and urge that the Government works across departments to achieve this. RTPI sets out its analysis of the long-term failure in the housing sector characterised by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government as the “broken housing market”   in its position paper Better Planning for Housing Affordability

Getting Plans in Place;

Local Authorities have been working hard to get their local plans in place, recognised as crucial by the RTPI to delivering the places we need. We recognise that for the most part, Councils have been successful in doing so.

We believe the more successful plans are those created by councils who can organise themselves and their partners to agree common outcomes (see our paper on Strategic Planning). We are therefore pleased to see a in the White Paper a commitment to change the NPPF to require authorities to be expected to prepare statements of commonground in order for their plans to be adopted.

The Housing White Paper repeats much of what is proposed in the Neighbourhood Planning Bill (currently being debated in Parliament), about how to incentivise speedier plan adoption and what is to be done about Local Authorities who have fallen behind, as well as strengthening the role of neighbourhood plans.

These proposals include intervening in local-plan making when necessary and requiring authorities to review their plan every 5 years to ensure they are up to date as well as setting out strategic priorities and improving the use of digital tools to make planning data more accessible. We have commented on these proposals in our response to the technical consultation on the Neighbourhood Planning bill, emphasising that one of the main reasons for less than adequate performance in this regard is because of under-resourced planning departments.

However, as the local Plans Expert Group concluded, there is also a strong consensus amongst professionals that there are clear operational reasons why plans have struggled, not least because of the way Objectively Assessed Needs (OAN) for housing are calculated.

Whilst the RTPI has frequently called for a more radical change in the way housing demand should be calculated, (see recommendation 8 in our paper delivering large scale housing) we are pleased to see that the operational recommendations of the LPEG report are being taken forward by a commitment by government to consult on options for introducing a standardised inclusive approach, specifically with reference to older people (see our paper on dementia and town planning) to assessing housing requirements.

We would not want any future standardised methodology to disrupt existing adopted plans, but as a future tool to provide a level playing field for plan production, we welcome this proposal. We hope that the consultation will be speedy in order that Councils are not left uncertain about how to calculate their OAN.

Making Land Ownership Interests More Transparent

We have long campaigned for land registry to remain in public sector and for data to be made more available and welcome the Government’s proposals to explore further options.

Bringing brownfield land back into use

Following on from the governments consultation on brownfield land, the White Paper suggests that National Planning Policy will be amended to indicate that great weight should be attached to the value of using suitable brownfield land within settlements for homes.

Our members have previously reflected and urged caution about the consequences of quick fix policy interventions of the past, keen not to create disconnected slums of tomorrow. Further, there is a general concern that many of these sites may be better suited to employment land. To enable proper planning of the country, brownfield sites should have good access by public transport to a range of places of employment. This is so important that the RTPI believes it should be specified as a separate criterion for inclusion on the Brownfield register. Merely referring to the site being “in a suitable location” is not sufficient. Many brownfield sites are so poorly located that their development would generate high volumes of car traffic and long commutes. Our recent Location of Development study has reported that – overall – the location of housing permissions is performing reasonably well to date, but there are no  grounds for complacency looking forward.

Reducing the time allowed between planning permission and the start of building from three to two years

 

The RTPI is always cautious about the unintended consequences of frequent planning reform and argued that robust data is required to properly inform decisions. There must be a concern that penalising the possession of a planning permission may simply deter or defer applications. Also data on this issue is  very often insufficient.

We are not aware that the Governement have plot-by-plot  evidence as opposed to simply whole-site.

Proposal to support small and medium sized sites, and thriving rural communities

 

The White Paper also seeks to amend national policy to expect local policies to have policies that support small windfall sites. Whilst changes in national policy may help,  the RTPI has advocated  offering  ready permitted sites to SME builders and supporting  them in the new industrial strategy.  We need to get them building again. See the RTPI 16 ways and Housing Policy Paper

Lack of finance is the major stumbling block for SMEs and their involvement in the sector is crucial to increased competition. Setting up a national investment bank to channel low cost, long-term loans into the provision of local infrastructure and affordable housing, working alongside SMEs, local authorities, and housing associations is a possible means to increasing output and competition within the sector. Apart from benefitting local businesses, resuscitating the involvement of SMEs would allow growth that is less dependent on a small number of firms thereby making the sector less susceptible to crises and more responsive to demand. See RTPI Lyons review response and RTPI blog post The Planning Factor: Why planning is critical to solving London's housing crisis

Green Belt

Maintaining protection for the green belt, which can only be built on "in exceptional circumstances".  The RTPI considered his issue in Where should we build more Homes (Housing the Nations) and believes we need to make green belts work for everybody.

A managed approach to urban expansion, whilst avoiding urban sprawl around our major cities, has been successfully achieved through planning policies such as green belts. The planning profession has championed this policy for over 60 years. But it is important to revisit the purposes that green belts need to fulfil over the coming generation. The value of green belts is not simply about what is ugly and what is attractive, as some argue. We need to talk about who green belts are for, and about their social impact, along with their continued role in shaping and managing urban growth.

Green belt boundaries may well need to change, but only through careful reviews over wider areas than single local authorities, and where safeguards are put in place to ensure that development is sustainable, affordable and delivered in a timely manner, and without prejudice to the renewal of brownfield land.

Boosting local authority capacity and capability to deliver, including planning fees.

 

We welcome the proposal to address resourcing in Local Planning Authority departments by allowing an increase in nationally set fees by 20% and the intention to consult on deterring unnecessary planning appeals by introducing fees for them. We have long argued that resourcing is a main barrier to delivering good planning outcomes. As well as supporting higher fees in our responses to consultations, we  would like to see other measure supported such as attracting more people into the profession through support for training, including bursaries, which the RTPI have offered.

Starter Homes

We welcome the government’s proposals to re-think their policy on starter homes, following our response to the consultation on changes to the national planning policy and starter homes regulations.