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Will the Housing & Planning Minister have enough time to tackle his full in-tray?

09 October 2017 Author: Samuel Stafford

Which position is more precarious? Housing & Planning Minister or football manager?

This image, which I came by via @NobleFrancis on Twitter, reveals that Alok Sharma is the 15th Housing Minister in 20 years, with the average tenure being just 16 months.

Housing Minister Life -span

According to this piece the average tenure of a football manager is also 16 months.

An incoming football manager can typically expect to inherit a squad that is bereft of form and confidence. An incoming Planning Minister can typically expect to inherit decisions that were just too complicated and policies that were just too difficult for their predecessors to deal with.

Alok Sharma’s in-tray seems particularly full, but helpfully for him a House of Commons Library Briefing Paper on Planning Reform Proposals sets out 32 proposed changes that are still yet to be made: 

  • Section 106 contributions
  • Community Infrastructure Levy
  • Local plans and housing requirements
  • Housing delivery test
  • Fixing housing land supply on an annual basis
  • Requirement to plan for housing and strategic priorities
  • Incentive to put in place a Local Plan
  • Duty to cooperate
  • Housing on commuter hubs and commercial land
  • A standardised approach to housing requirement calculations
  • Upward extensions
  • Rural areas
  • Release of land for starter homes
  • Affordable housing: change of definition
  • Consultation on planning and affordable housing for build to rent
  • Presumption in favour of brownfield land
  • Cutting red tape review
  • Roads and infrastructure requirements
  • Protected species
  • Utility connection to new homes
  • Changes to planning application fees
  • Garden cities, towns and villages
  • Completion notice reform
  • Secretary of State planning decisions: time limit
  • Fees for making a planning appeal
  • Green Belt
  • Neighbourhood planning
  • Developer’s track record
  • Sustainable development and the environment
  • Basement development
  • Designation for poor performance
  • Draft airports national policy statement

Some big things and some less big things

The list is worth listing in full because in one way or another something on that list will be significant to everybody involved in the planning process, and the planning for new homes particularly. Waiting for these changes to be made, or not to be made, is influencing to a lesser or greater degre how planners are going about their business. Leadership is sought.

A number of the proposals, for example, will influence how people will bid for land. If bidding on a subject-to-planning basis the bidder has to anticipate what the policy regime will be when consent is granted, which might be eighteen months away. Does the bidder adopt a ‘worse case scenario’ and risk losing the site with an uncompetitive headline offer? Does the bidder adopt a ‘best case scenario’ and present, in headline terms at least, the best offer, but risk either having to ‘chip’ the purchaser when the policy requirements finally emerge, or wrangle with the LPA over what then, to them, is viable.

A number of these proposals, for example, will influence how people will promote a local plan. The planning policy manager might be prepared to trust the evidence base, build in as much flexibility to emerging policies as possible, and try to convince an Inspector that there is no future problem so serious that an early review cannot remedy it. The Leader of the Council though, perhaps faced with local elections next year, might adopt a more circumspect approach.

What if?

What if the draft standard Objectively Assessed Need methodology is adopted and does mean we can reduce our housing targets? What if the large strategic sites policy falls foul of a housing delivery test? Our fragile pretence of a five-year housing land supply will be shattered for good. Let’s just wait and see. There is an irony, of course, in one of the proposals being focussed on incentivising the production of local plans.

The pond of planning policy and guidance is seldom still, but in the recent past the sector has had to anticipate the waves from the Housing & Planning Act 2016, tossed in by the Cameron and Osborne Government, and the waves from this year’s Housing White Paper, which signalled the change of direction being attempted by May and Javid.

What hope for a period of tranquillity?

Philip Hammond has suggested that the Budget might again include planning reforms, which would be in addition to the revised draft NPPF, expected early in the New Year and the Green Paper on Social Housing that Sajid Javid has announced. Even more for the Minister’s in-tray.

Mr Sharma has noted that Planning Ministers are a bit like Doctor Who and that he is the latest incarnation, but has said that he “hopes to be in place for a decent length of time and to see through many of the reforms that are laid out in the Housing White Paper”.

“We need an evolution over a period of time”, said Crystal Palace Chairman Steve Parish in June when announcing the arrival of manager Frank De Boer. De Boer was sacked after 77 days and 4 matches.

Guest blogs may not represent the views of the RTPI.

Samuel Stafford

Samuel Stafford

Samuel Stafford MRTPI is Strategic Land Director at Barratt Developments PLC. He is writing here in a personal capacity.