I have been reading the Lords' debate on the Localism Bill with particular interest in what is said about planning for new housing, in the same week as other announcements have been made about the use and availability of public land for housing delivery.
Whilst several of the speakers in the Lords chose to mention housing, the predominant theme for them was the changes proposed to social housing tenure. Two interesting comments were made (by Lord Best and Baroness Eaton) about reform to the housing revenue account and their hopes for amendments to the Bill to give local authorities the freedoms required to allow them to invest in social housing, putting them on a par with housing associations for the provision of social housing in their local areas.
Only Baroness Andrews focused on the Bill’s proposals for reform of the planning system and the effect on housing supply. She took the theme of sustainability and the requirement for a strategic approach which is necessary to meet what she defined as the challenge for a modern planning system “to balance potentially infinite demands with finite resources”. And so she mourned the loss of regional spatial strategies, and cast doubt on the efficacy of a voluntary duty to cooperate between local authorities in taking a wider than local spatial view of planning for growth.
This plays to the theme of other speakers, about how workable the new legislation will be in practice. Will it achieve, or enable the achievement, of the Government’s ambitious plans for growth in the economy and, in particular, for housing?
So, in the face of such open criticism, the Government has announced this week the intended release over the course of the next few years of previously developed land held by Government departments, suggested to be sufficient to build as many as 100,000 new homes. Grant Shapps took the opportunity to remind us of three major development sites held by the HCA, the MoD and the New Covent Garden Market site at Nine Elms saying “the Government has a critical role to play in making sites available for developers”.
But these developments, and others, can only happen where the planning framework exists to facilitate them, and as readers will appreciate unless consent has already been granted the planning landscape, post Mr Pickles' announcement to revoke RS, remains an uncertain one. In passing new law which devolves decisions on housing growth to local level without an overarching strategic framework and with no binding duty to cooperate as between neighbouring authorities, the Government does nothing to guarantee the new planning system will deliver much needed new housing.