Implications of the housing white paper

Posted On: 
14th February 2017

The housing white paper has great potential, but lacks concrete plans says Dods monitoring consultant, Kerri Blyberg.

Dods political consultant, Kerri Blyberg questions whether the housing white paper is encouraging or pressurising local authorities to build more homes.
Credit: 
PA Images

One of the cornerstones of last week’s housing white paper was the commitment to encourage local authorities to build more homes. But is it a case of encouraging, or rather pressurising local authorities, many of whom are already at breaking point as a result of funding cuts?

The white paper cites a failure of local authorities to adequately plan for housing need as one of three primary causes of the broken housing market. 

While the National Planning Policy Framework set a requirement for local authorities to create plans on the basis of objectively assessed five-year housing need, there are no rules governing methodology. 

Communities and Local Government Secretary Sajid Javid, in his oral statement to the House last Tuesday, claimed that some local authorities have been able to dodge difficult planning decisions as a result. Seeking to change this, the white paper promises to consult on a new, standardised methodology which would push for councils to plan accordingly and ultimately, punish those who don’t.

The new housing delivery test would also clamp down on under-performing councils, highlighting those who are not delivering the homes needed and allowing presumption in favour of developers in such areas.

From November 2018 onwards, if a local plan suggests that housing delivery is less than 25 per cent of need, developers will be granted automatic permission on sustainable schemes (with exceptions). This would then increase to 45 per cent in 2019 and 65 per cent in 2020.

While this would appease developers, the white paper also promises powers to local authorities to clamp down on developers who partake in land banking; forcing developers to build within two years, rather than three, once permission has been granted. If developers aren’t building fast enough, completion notices may be served to allow permissions to be revoked while compulsory purchase orders could also be used to support the build out of stalled sites. 

There’s no denying that provisions in the white paper make considerable headway for boosting councils’ house building, but do the measures go far enough?

While welcoming many of the new proposals, some in the local government sector have suggested the plans are lacklustre. 

Indeed while the borrowing cap on housing revenue accounts remain, councils are limited in their ability to finance new builds. This is only exacerbated by Right to Buy. 

Thursday saw the publication of another DCLG consultation, suggesting the formula used to calculate Right to Buy receipts to HM Treasury remain the same. Clearly, the Government show no sign of answering the calls of local authorities seeking to retain 100 per cent of revenue.

Certainly, 100 per cent retention would allow councils to reinvest in social housing, replacing some of the stock lost through the scheme.

As such, the white paper has great potential, but lacks concrete plans. How successful it can be in boosting the nation’s housebuilding is subject to consultation and projected revisions to the National Planning Policy Framework. Further still, without adequate funding and additional resources, the pressure to get councils building can only do so much.

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