The Housing and Planning Bill received its first reading in the House of Commons this week (13 October 2015), with the expectation that the Bill will receive Royal Assent before the end of the current parliamentary session.

The Bill covers a wide range of matters, stretching across the planning and compulsory purchase spectrum, although the Government is at pains to highlight the measures intended to increase house building, with Housing Minister Brandon Lewis indicating that these will assist in “kick-starting a national crusade to get 1 million homes built by 2020.”

The most significant measures within the Bill:

  • Government powers to ensure that all local planning authorities adopt their Local Plans by 2017. Failure to meet this deadline would allow the Secretary of State to step in to the shoes of the LPA for plan making.
  • A duty on English planning authorities to promote the supply of starter homes when carrying out their planning functions, drawing upon the Conservative’s manifesto commitment to ʺbuild more homes that people can afford, including 200,000 starter homes exclusively for first‐time buyers under 40”. Starter homes are defined as new dwellings which will be offered to first time buyers at a 20% market discount. These homes must be sold for less than the price cap of £450,000 in Greater London and £250,000 outside Greater London.
  • A duty on local housing authorities to consider selling any high value vacant housing which it owns.
  • Preparation of development orders granting or enabling LPAs to grant permission in principle for land allocated for development.
  • Maintenance of a register of various types of land, including brownfield land, to facilitate unlocking land to build new homes.
  • The inclusion of housing within applications for consent under the nationally significant infrastructure planning regime. Guidance produced by the Department for Communities and Local Government will set out the details of the amount of housing that may be granted consent within a development consent order. This will include housing which is functionally linked to the infrastructure project and will allow the Secretary of State to grant consent or housing where there is no functional link but a close geographical link between the housing and infrastructure project.

The recent announcements made by the Government give clear support and priority to the need to provide much needed residential dwellings across the country. The Bill offers a broad range of measures seeking to address the inadequacy of supply and affordability of housing needs and it is encouraging to see a commitment to unlocking brownfield land that has, for too long, been a resource that has been underdeveloped.

Critics will say, however, that the measures do not go far enough to solve the housing crisis. Those in the industry consider that a reappraisal of the role of the Green Belt is necessary and the Government’s continued insistence that the Green Belt should be protected at all costs would appear to rule this out in the foreseeable future.

Although the reforms may not be as wholesale as the ministerial statements suggest, it is clear that the Government is looking to address the housing crisis in a relatively hard-hitting fashion and force the development industry to explore new ways to deliver housing that this country needs.