It is likely that planning reform will not be front-of-centre during the upcoming election – as voters continue to focus on foreign affairs, economic growth, and the ongoing energy crisis. Electorally, though there is growing evidence that a failure to deliver new housing is reducing the Conservative’s longer-term ability to win over younger voters, scepticism towards residential development remains high across the political spectrum. Despite this, housing delivery – in particular where, and how, housing should be delivered – remains a hot topic within SW1, as an increasing number of think tanks argue that the UK’s planning system is the nation’s highest barrier to growth.

In government, this recognition that the UK needs to build more houses, but that reducing environmental and ‘Green Belt’ planning protections is often politically non-viable, has led to a broad agreement across the Treasury, DLHUC, and DEFRA to encourage densification within existing metropolitan areas. This policy, which Prime Minister Sunak summarised as a “plan to build the right homes where there is the most need and where there is local support, in the heart of Britain’s great cities”, notably manifested in the 2021 ‘Urban Uplift’ – in which the 20 most populated cities and urban centres in England, received a 35% uplift to their housing targets.

To deliver this urban housing, the Government has committed to both planning reform and new spending. Permitted development right (PDR) schemes continue to receive strong bi-partisan support from national government, and some local authorities. Councillors and MPs often support PDR’s ability to reduce the number of vacant, secondary and tertiary, commercial properties within existing urban locations, while acknowledging its ability to deliver housing without noticeable townscape impacts. Reflecting this support, Secretary Gove’s recent consultation on reforms to the PDR system – as discussed by David Hughes of Alchemy in BE News last month – enable greater flexibility regarding building extension, and some redevelopment rights. These will likely be supported by many local councillors, as will Chancellor Hunt’s prior announcement of reforms to create ‘duplexes’ within existing residential properties.

Elsewhere, Treasury documents released as part of the March 2024 Budget also indicate that Whitehall is supportive of greater housing delivery within Canary Wharf – which, as a historically commercial destination, has struggled with several high-profile business occupiers departing. Committing nearly £118m to deliver up to 750 homes, alongside a life science hub, commercial space, and healthcare facility, this Treasury spending shows an acknowledgement that in a post-pandemic world, commercial neighbourhoods must be supported by residential areas.

This can be seen in other London boroughs, notably Southwark where a need to deliver affordable rental accommodation has driven the delivery of PBSA schemes within key commercial areas – including LSE’s planned site adjacent to the Tate Modern, and Regal London’s 941 student bed scheme on the Old Kent Road. Despite Councillor Hayward’s recent comments regarding residential delivery within the Square Mile, we’re also seeing a growing number of residential or hotel schemes being proposed within the City, notably Dominus’s schemes at 61-65 Holborn Viaduct & 65 Crutched Friars.

Finally, public-private partnerships remain a consistent, popular vehicle to deliver housing within urban locations, benefitting from the ability to unlock large public authority landbanks whilst de-risking the capital commitments required to build at scale. The recent Budget’s commitment of £4m to establish the Euston Delivery Group, aimed at delivering up to 10,000 new homes on the current Euston station development site, is perhaps the most ambitious of these new partnerships. However, across the UK, we are increasingly working with both local authorities, and development managers, to couple private financing with publicly owned land, to deliver needed housing within urban locations.

Despite this, developers and asset managers should be wary of conflating governmental, and wider political, support for urban housing, with community acquiescence to development. Indeed, as the locations facing the most radical, and lasting, changes to their built environments, we acknowledge that urban communities are often deeply passionate about shaping and influencing local plans and planning applications. Engaging early, deeply, and honestly, is key to build the relationships necessary to deliver housing in these communities, while minimising public opposition.