After one of the longer lead-in periods for a policy paper in recent memory (publication was originally scheduled for November), the government has published its White Paper on housing, Fixing our broken housing market.
We are used to talking of a housing crisis, of Generation Rent, of the increasing elusiveness of home ownership. Governments have been aware of the problem for years, and made ambitious and. to date, largely unachieved pledges to address it.
The fact this is the first dedicated White Paper on housing since 1995 heightened anticipation – as did the fact that clashes within the Conservatives over the Green Belt contributed to the delay in publication. Councils have delayed Local Plans, expecting the ground to shift beneath them.
So, did the earth move?
The government has identified a need for 225,000-275,000 new homes per year. The White Paper focuses on four themes: planning for the right homes in the right places, building homes faster, diversifying the market and helping people now. You may have read the headlines by now, including a focus on more affordable homes, further pressure on developers to start building, increased rights for tenants and maintaining protection for the Green Belt. At Redwood Consulting we’ve been through the details to pick out some key points that warrant further scrutiny:
Planning for the right homes in the right places
- Specifying in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) that low-density development should be avoided in areas with acute housing need
- Requiring neighbouring authorities to work together to meet housing need and prepare policy statements detailing how
- Intervening to ensure Local Plans are put in place
- Allowing site allocation by Combined Authorities’ spatial development strategies
- Amending the NPPF to give greater weight to brownfield-first preferences
- Encouraging homes on public-sector land, through a £45 million Land Release Fund, making it easier to dispose of land, and promoting estate regeneration
- Placing great weight on ‘windfall’ and infill development in small settlements
- Strengthening neighbourhood plans and the importance of pre-application discussions on design
- Expecting at least 10% of allocated sites to be no more than half a hectare
Building homes faster
- Consulting on reducing the time limits on planning permissions to two years
- Allowing local authorities to consider new factors:
- How likely a site is to be developed where previous permissions have not been implemented
- The developer’s track record of implementing permissions
- Requiring housebuilders to publish build-out rates
- Boosting compulsory purchase powers, to drive construction
- Increasing planning fees by 20%, to be invested directly in planning departments
- Applying a new housing delivery test, with escalating responses where need remains unmet
- Offering to rubber-stamp local authorities’ housing supply annually, as a guarantee
- Making £25 million available to help ambitious authorities consult on the design and mix of new homes
- Prohibiting planning conditions that do not meet national policy tests
- Reforming developer contributions, with an announcement in the Autumn Budget
Diversifying the market
- Encouraging institutional investment in the private rented sector and shared ownership
- Allowing housing associations to borrow against future income for the period after 2020, providing extra capital
- Looking at bespoke housing deals with individual local authorities, using government powers to drive development
- Rebranding the Homes & Communities Agency as Homes England, with a renewed purpose: ‘To make a home in reach for everyone’
Helping people now
- Introducing a clear expectation that housing sites deliver a minimum of 10% affordable housing
- Creating a Lifetime ISA, offering a 25% bonus on up to £4,000 a year on a first home, or at the age of 60
- Considering the future of Help to Buy beyond 2021
- Restricting Starter Homes to buyers with mortgages and incomes of less than £80,000, or £90,000 in London
- Allowing the £7 billion Affordable Homes Programme to build a range of homes, including affordable rent
- Producing guidance on how local development documents must meet the needs of older and disabled people
What does this mean for the property sector?
Amid a raft of policy proposals, the government has conceded that many will remain renters. What will this mean for the property sector – and for each and every one of us?
There is a mix of new and old policy in the White Paper, woven together into what the Department for Communities and Local Government hopes is a coherent strategy. Some have criticised the government for appearing to forget the Housing and Planning Act 2016, the Neighbourhood Planning Bill and even its emerging infrastructure strategy. The White Paper document itself makes very clear that those are still part of the programme; if they are rarely touted in ministerial statements, it is more out of sensitivity at appearing to be ‘announcing’ old policy.
The mood music that wafted from DCLG in recent months about more flexibility for Green Belt development has been silenced by the conductor in Downing Street. Sajid Javid today emphasised that “this White Paper does not remove any [Green Belt] protections,” signalling that the more radical forces in the government lost out to the voices of the shire Tories. Clear government intervention could have curtailed bitter battles over Green Belt development. It would not have silenced all criticism, but it would certainly have accelerated planning. We should instead expect little change.
Will the government achieve its housing objectives? There certainly seems to be a clarity of focus that was previously lacking. The retreat over Green Belt suggests, though, a lack of political will to confront the government’s core supporters with difficult choices. As long as politics can pre-empt policy, it would be no surprise if ambition continues to be frustrated.
This White Paper is not just a policy menu, however: it’s a consultation. It closes with 32 pages of questions about what policies people think the government should pursue, with a deadline of 2nd May 2017.
Businesses in the property and construction sector must join the debate, if they are to help shape the policies we need. The government wants your views. At Redwood Consulting, we can help you understand where your input can be most valuable, and work with you to craft consultation responses on these urgent questions of national importance. Get in touch to talk about how we can help.