Housing white paper: Was it worth the wait?

Posted On: 
10th February 2017

Matt Thomson, Head of Planning for the Campaign to Protect Rural England, reflects on the Government's housing white paper published earlier this week.

The housing white paper has opened up opportunities for CPRE's campaigning to have very positive impacts.
Credit: 
Mark Seton

This week saw the culmination of months of speculation, rumour and a frenzy of press stories on developers, Green Belt and new settlements: the Government’s housing white paper was finally allowed out into the big wide world. 

Plans to at last kick-start housebuilding contain much that can be welcomed. But that’s not to say the proposals are without concern for the countryside – unsurprisingly, it doesn’t look like CPRE can down tools quite yet.  

There are promising signs of doing some things differently: with its focus on tackling the failings of the housing market rather than just meddling with the planning system, the Government seems to have finally recognised that the housing market is more of a problem than it has previously admitted. And it looks like CPRE’s work has influenced some of the Government’s thinking – especially the rowing back from a Green Belt free-for-all. The paper includes a commitment to maintain strong protections for Green Belt land, reaffirming that Green Belt boundaries should only be amended in exceptional circumstances. However, the threat is not yet past: CPRE’s latest analysis shows that 360,000 houses are currently planned on the Green Belt.

There are also plans to support more brownfield development and regeneration of urban centres; another key focus of CPRE’s campaigning. Small and medium housebuilders, often more willing and able to build on smaller sites, will see more support to compete with the housing behemoths. And the paper also promises more support for housing associations and local authorities to build more homes, helping to ensure the need for affordable housing is better met.

Proposals to speed up housing development also feature - by preventing developers from dragging their heels once they have the land and permissions needed to build. The Government’s intentions are good, but it is less clear whether the measures proposed for councils to hold developers to account will have the impact intended. The proposals are clearly linked to an obsession with the idea that the answer to any housing delivery problem is to identify more development sites – this has to stop.

Crucially, the paper includes the promise of a new standardised way of calculating Objectively Assessed Need. The outcome of the consultation on this will be a crucial factor in calculating the levels of threat the countryside will face from housing targets. We must make sure that the targets reflect constraints such as Green Belt and valued landscapes, and plan to meet genuine need rather than the market-led demand that has created such havoc in the countryside.

The full effects of the paper will take some time to unfold. Notably, the details of many measures in the paper are interwoven with an expected update to the NPPF later this year. But at the very least the housing white paper has opened up opportunities for much of CPRE’s campaigning to have very positive impacts.