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A plan for homes for all now

20 July 2016 Author: Trudi Elliott

Brexit And Planning

Theresa May’s pledge to create “a country that works for all” must make “homes for all” a priority. RTPI has a comprehensive package of ideas.

Like others I have pored over the Prime Minister’s manifesto for a country that works for everyone. It recognises the Brexit vote was a vote for serious change and nowhere is this more starkly needed than in housing .

For many the struggle to find an affordable, decent roof above their heads is the deepest insecurity, and they won’t have any security until we have built enough and have a wide enough range of housing.

House Building

It is really encouraging that the new Housing and Planning Minister Gavin Barwell’s first statement recognises the need to work “with councils, housing associations, developers, investors and local communities to make sure we build (the homes) we need with the mix of tenures that people want and that those homes should be great places to live."

For many the struggle to find an affordable, decent roof above their heads is the deepest insecurity, and they won’t have any security until we have built enough and have a wide enough range of housing.

The major house builders alone cannot be expected to deliver all the homes we need. Evidence of the last 30 years shows they have almost consistently delivered no more than 150,000.

Based on the work the RTPI has been doing in this issue I have a comprehensive package of suggestions to the new Prime Minister, Secretary of State and Minister to ensure a plan for homes for all, now:

Find innovative ways of funding the affordable housing elements of consented developments to keep them delivering. We must learn the lessons from the 2008 financial crisis and cannot let the challenges that major house builders will face in a downturn result in whole developments being stalled. Too much of planners', developers' and councillors’ time was wasted during the post-crash recession arguing over which element of a permitted housing scheme was cut to make it stack up financially. Almost a decade on the housing crisis has deepened. We must not let this happen again.

Get the public sector building. Local authority-commissioned home building has to be part of the solution. The LGA and the Federation of Master builders have stepped up already and said they are up for it. Cleverly used it can create markets and support private sector provision. It’s not either/or. 

Keep Housing Associations building. Housing associations helped to get the industry through previous downturns and keep us building homes; they need to be supported to do so again.

Offer ready, permitted sites to support small and medium size builders and support them in the new industrial strategy. We need to get them building again.

Create a fiscal regime that encourages “Build to Rent”. We are a complete outlier as a nation in failing to supply purpose-built properties to rent with longer term security.

Let Local Authorities charge the planning fees they need to properly resource their planning service. Developers will pay for an efficient and responsive service. Planning departments have suffered greater cuts than other local authority functions and it has to stop.

Encourage local authorities to be proactive in land assembly to unblock land for homes as well as wider socially and economically beneficial development.

Put an end to public sector land banking. Recent figures show poor progress with the Government’s drive to release public land for housing. There should be requirements for public sector land owners to act in more socially responsible ways and think of UK plc in the longer term. Their performance should be measured by the social and economic benefits that they can create, how much they can save the public purse, or how much they can secure a sustainable income stream. In the longer term, investment in housing will save the NHS money and cut housing benefit bills. 

Require a city region wanting a devolution deal with government on jobs infrastructure and other funding to have a plan to deliver the supporting homes required by those jobs. Money talks. 

Don’t call in local plans that properly plan for the homes their communities need and have been scrutinised and found sound by the Planning Inspectorate. Instead support local authorities and their partners to deliver those homes. And use call in powers more sparingly and be much quicker in reaching a decision when it is used.

Allow Planning Inspectors to find local plans partially sound. Don’t let problems with one small policy area hold up a Local plan having the weight it needs in steering where homes go

Align transport infrastructure and housing delivery more effectively. Start by assessing infrastructure projects for the development land they unlock, not just their impact on speed and congestion. Longer term proper spatial planning is a key tool.

Encourage innovation in climate change mitigation and energy efficiency in the industrial strategy. We need mechanisms to improve the energy efficiency of the existing housing stock, and policies which ensure that new homes are compliant with our carbon reduction targets. This should form a core part of the industrial strategy. 

Invest in the next generation of those who will make the housing happen. Government has backed our planner’s bursary scheme; we need to make working in the built and natural environment open and inspiring to all.

In the longer term we need to explore the operation of the land market, an issue explored by the House of Lords in their report just published on the economics of housing. We need to better capture some of the increase in land value particularly from public investment so we can fund affordable housing and the infrastructure good places and homes need.

And, please don’t forget the existing housing stock, the rental market and structure, and how taxation and housing benefit policy drives behaviours and the market. We must recognise the true value of planning is in the long term creation of great places, increasing certainty for everyone, and market shaping so the market works more effectively for all.

Brexit or not, housing is one of our big challenges, our national crisis. The uncertainty caused by voting Leave has just made it even more challenging to deliver the million homes due to the economic shock and its particular and immediate impact on the sector. It is also all the more vital in light of the need for more social cohesion.

The current system results in too much of planners' time being spent arguing the theoretical number of “housing units “a local authority area needs. The focus must shift to delivering the homes the country needs with equal focus on different tenures.

Prime Minister, Secretary of State, and Minister, this is your chance to get it right and we are all up for making it happen.

Trudi Elliott

Trudi Elliott

Chief Executive, RTPI