A blog about planning, planning law and planning policy


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Laying the Foundations: A Housing Strategy for England

The Government launched this strategy today, part of its proposals to stimulate growth, recognising the role played by new housing.   I met with some architects last week and as we discussed the Government’s Plan for Growth, they practically fell about laughing when I took them through the policy of giving greater power to local communities in planning and the Localism Act 2011.

So I wonder if “Laying the Foundations” includes an attempt to resolve the tension between the Plan for Growth and localism.

I ask this because in a section on locally planned large scale development, where communities will decide, we see proposals to hold a competition to promote a wave of larger scale projects with clear local support and private sector appetite.  A streamlined and collaborative approach to planning is envisaged, such as Local Development Orders.   So we can expect that to win the competition one will have to use LDOs.  Government support to do this is promised for enthusiastic areas.  I am surprised not to see Neighbourhood Development Orders, Plans and Community Right to Build Orders, the new babies of the Localism Act 2011, expressly included.  With their requirements for referendum support, they seem unlikely tools to get development moving.  But apart from that there is no reason not to use them and including them in the criteria for winning might mean they get used.

The Government again suggests the renegotiation of s.106 agreements concluded before April 2010 and will consult on this.  A simple move would be to reduce the time for a s.106A application to amend from the current five years.

There is also encouragement for Custom Build – only about 15% of new housing in the UK is self-built, compared with 30% in the Netherlands (who are next to us at the bottom of the table), over 60% in France and over 80% in Austria.  It takes a brave individual to take on the English planning system these days which must be part of the reason for such low rates.

Laying the Foundations of course refers to the draft NPPF, and here there are some very interesting statements.  Para 78 says that the draft introduces the presumption in favour of sustainable development and that “where plans are not in place or up-to-date development should be allowed unless this would compromise the key sustainable development principles in the draft NPPF”.  This is significant and is consistent with what Baroness Hanham said in the Lords’ debate on the draft NPPF (see this link).  So what are we to make of the recent decisions where the Secretary of State has refused appeals on the ground that they are premature while the local planning authority has not yet been able to revise their development plan?  And what light does it throw on the statements made by Greg Clark about transitional provisions in the final debate on the Bill in the Commons on the Localism Bill?  This paper has the signatures of the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, Secretary of State and the Housing Minister on it.

But as we all know, the housing market needs a supply of new entrants.  First time buyers generally do not have the size of deposits demanded by building societies and banks.  So Laying the Foundations supports the new build indemnity scheme (which probably needs a snappier title);  housebuilders deposit 3.5% of the sale price, the Government gives a guarantee, and 95% mortgages will be available to first time buyers of new homes.  Will this free up the market or will it lead to imprudent lending again?  After all, the whole crisis blew up because people in the USA were lent more than they could afford to repay.

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