Briefing: Planning for the Right Homes in the Right Place

Context

On Thursday 14 September, the Department for Communities and Local Government released a new consultation document, Planning for the right homes in the right places: consultation proposals. The document carries forward a commitment made in the Housing White Paper, released in February 2017, to consult further on a number of specific proposals.

Reflecting this, the document shares the same name as the first chapter of February’s White Paper – and includes policies designed to create clarity around local housing need and land availability. Alongside the consultation document, the Government has published two further documents:

  • A Housing need consultation data table setting out the housing need for each local planning authority using our proposed method, how many homes each authority is currently planning for, and, where available, how many homes they believe they need.
  • A Comprehensive registration programme: priority areas for land registration document lists those areas where Her Majesty’s Land Registry intends to prioritise the registration of ownership of all publicly held land.

Consultation is open until 11:45pm on 9 November 2017.

The detail

In effect, the proposals contained in consultation document move forward the White Paper’s emphasis on tackling local councils’ ability to frustrate housing delivery by fudging the numbers. The consultation document includes proposals for:

  • A new standard method for calculating local housing need, including transitional arrangements: This is intended to ensure that honest housing targets are established in each local authority area and then reflected in realistic Local Plans. The new methodology would use household growth projections as the baseline for local housing need, adjusted for affordability – a multiplier would be applied in areas of low affordability. The model includes a cap designed to limit the level of increase. DCLG estimates that the new methodology could result in local housing need figures rising by an average of 35% in more than 150 local authority areas.

The document also sets out proposals for implementing the new standardised methodology. It sets out that it would apply ‘immediately’ from 31 March 2018 where plans are more than five years old, or if new plans have not been submitted to the Secretary of State before that date. Local Plans submitted before this date may use the current approach, and then use the new methodology when next reviewing or updating the Plan.

  • Improving how local planning authorities work together in planning to meet housing and requirements across boundaries: This would require local authorities to agree Statements of Common Ground with neighbouring local authorities within 12 months of the publication of the Government’s changes to the NPPF. The statements should set out cross-boundary matters, including housing need for the area, distribution and proposals for meeting any shortfalls.

 

  • Providing greater clarity over housing numbers for Neighbourhood Plans: The document sets out that local authorities with up to date plans would be expected to provide neighbourhood planning groups with housing need figures for their areas, while in areas without an up to date Local Plan, councils could use a standardised formula-based approach to provide a figure. This provision is what underlines the Government’s claim that the document reinforces local people’s power over planning.

 

  • Improving the use of S106 agreements, by making the use of viability assessments simpler, quicker and more transparent: This includes a proposed change to national planning policy to ensure that where applications meet viability requirements set out in local planning policies, they should be assumed to be viable. This would be clarified in the NPPF.

 

  • Additional planning fee increases: The consultation seeks views on the proposal in the Housing White Paper that local planning authorities delivering their required housing numbers might be eligible for a further 20% increase in planning application fees, over and above the 20% increase already confirmed.

 

  • A commitment to publish a revised NPPF early in 2018: The Government’s objective here is to ‘ensure that we not only plan for the right homes in the right places, but that we turn existing and future planning permissions quickly into new homes through reforms such as the Housing Delivery Test.’

Analysis

There is little that is specifically new in the consultation document. Instead, it provides more detail on measures already mooted in the Housing White Paper. However, the impact of these changes, particularly from the proposed new standardised methodology for assessing housing need, would be significant in some areas.

There is a strong geographical element to the rise in assessed housing need as a result of the new methodology, with local authorities in London and the South East seeing some of the largest increases. The Outer London boroughs are particularly affected; Enfield’s annual need would rise from the 1695 assessed locally to 3330 under the new formula. It will be interesting to see if this lends weight to the emphasis that London’s Deputy Mayor for Housing, James Murray, places on the Outer boroughs taking the weight of housing need in the Capital.

The impact of the multiplier for affordability is clearly significant. Hounslow, which remains one of the more affordable boroughs in London, would see its numbers fall from a locally assessed 1556 per year to 1151 per year under the new methodology.

In practice, the impact of the changes is most likely to be felt sooner, and more heavily, by local authorities which are already failing to meet their locally assessed housing need. Perhaps unsurprisingly, areas with low affordability are often those which do not currently have a Local Plan in place, or are not meeting their current locally assessed need. Given this, the Government’s claim that the proposals increase the power of local communities over planning is likely to receive little credence.

Where factors such as a high proportion of Green Belt have driven failure to deliver housing in line with locally assessed need, the requirement to agree a Statement of Common Ground with neighbouring authorities is likely to become particularly important. The need to cooperate already drives tension between many urban authorities such as Oxford and Slough and their neighbours: expect this requirement to create further flashpoints.

Politically, the new methodology is likely to exacerbate the difficulties faced by the leaders of local authorities already struggling to meet their assessed housing need. Guildford’s Cllr Paul Spooner, for example, took the unusual step of emailing all councillors about the proposals, rather than just members of his own group. Given how many of the authorities affected fall within the constituencies of Conservative MPs, this does appear to put the lie to claims following the General Election that the Government might put elements of the Housing White Paper on hold to avoid creating difficulties for itself.

Reaction

Sajid Javid MP, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government: ‘This new approach will cut the unnecessarily complex and lengthy debates that can delay housebuilding. It will make sure we have a clear and realistic assessment of how many new homes are needed, and ensure local communities have a voice in deciding where they go.’

John Healey MP, Shadow Housing Minister: ‘Fine-tuning [the] planning system won’t fix the housing crisis but it will bring trouble in the Tory shires. Yet another housing statement but well short of fixing housing crisis: homeownership now at 30-y low; new affordable housebuilding 24-y low’

National Housing Federation: ‘The consultation has the potential to radically change the way the nation plans for housing, and could also have a positive impact on the supply of affordable homes which the Federation welcomes.’

CPRE: ‘Forcing high housing numbers onto the most expensive areas is the wrong answer. Building executive homes in expensive areas will simply not address the crisis in housing for young people and families. It will entrench the dominance of housebuilders and speculators over development and focus growth in the south east. In areas such as Epping Forest, it will lead to the loss of further areas of precious countryside, such as Green Belt and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.’

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