Getting Housing Done
As the new year begins and the 2019 General Election fades into distant memory – helpfully aided by the Christmas/New Year lull – political attention will soon reawaken as all eyes turn to how the new majority Conservative government delivers on its promises.
In an election campaign dominated by ‘Brexit’ and ‘X number of days to save the NHS’, one of the many elephants in the room was the housing crisis – the acute national shortage of suitable housing.
Addressing this crisis – and making good of the Tory manifesto commitment of “[making] the planning system simpler for the public and small builders” – will be no small task for the new Government and likely require radical reform to the planning system.
Here are six planning-related commitments facing the new Conservative administration in the years ahead:
1. Accelerated Planning White Paper
Delayed by the General Election (but is likely to come back to the law-makers in 2020) these reforms intend to continue simplification and de-regulation of the planning system, as well as giving planning authorities greater powers to set fees and tighten pre-commencement conditions.
The extent to which the planning process is strengthened could be seen as contradicting the focus on deregulation and permitted development. How this will meet the manifesto pledge of future development built for the benefit of communities remains a grey area.
2. Permitted development rights
The decisive election result potentially gives the Government more power in pursuing a deregulation agenda, this includes the expansion of often controversial permitted development rights as a means of increasing housing supply.
Controversial office to residential conversions have garnered much media coverage over the past few years. Whilst there has been talk of improved quality standards, the Conservative manifesto announcement of permitted upward extensions casts a further shadow over this area of policy.
3. Major infrastructure
As my colleague John Quinton-Barber said in his post-election blog post, the Government’s centre of gravity has shifted and the north is now at the front of the queue. This means some of the major northern infrastructure projects (HS2, Northern Powerhouse Rail and other large transport schemes) long since talked about will now take centre stage. The question will be whether they are at the expense of projects in the south, such as the Lower Thames Crossing.
This shift of focus and investment could create housing market demand and desirability outside of the traditional south and east hotspots.
4. Developer contributions for discounted homes
Another Conservative manifesto commitment was to use developer contributions to fund affordable homes with a 30% discount for local first-time buyers.
Following the white elephant of the ‘Starter Homes’ initiative and the reneging on the requirement for schemes to contain 20% starter homes under the Cameron administration, the effectiveness of this plan will be assured only if local planning authorities have the ability to decide on the requirement for their areas.
5. Delivery of infrastructure before development
With developers generally unwilling to put money down for infrastructure before selling their first house, the Conservative manifesto contained a pledge that this funding would now be provided before development, potentially ending the age-old gripe of development without infrastructure.
The £10billion “Single Housing Infrastructure Fund” would fulfil this pledge, though the concern will be how much this fund will contribute compared to the developers. There is a risk that any blanket requirement for developers to fund or part-fund infrastructure may slow or prohibit housing delivery.
The Government has boldly pledged to achieve net carbon emissions by 2050, this will have planning implications; most likely through legislation to force developers to deliver carbon neutral developments.
This year will almost certainly see the reintroduction of the Environment Bill; another piece of legislation delayed by the 2019 General Election. From a development point of view, the Bill included a requirement for developers to secure net biodiversity gain in all new schemes and for local authorities to draw-up “nature recovery strategies” as part of any development.
The viability of meeting these environmental requirements may be a hinderance to generating adequate supply, though would certainly have greater benefits to current and future communities.
The Housing Secretary has a lot in his in-tray in the months ahead. The balancing act for the Government lies between strengthening the planning system to create an ample housing supply that is accepted by local communities, and an agenda for deregulation, accelerated housing supply and often unpopular permitted development. One thing is for certain, the housing crisis will not be solved any time soon.