The recent Housing White Paper is far-reaching in its ideas on how to fix the country's "broken housing market". We have looked at five themes that are currently being consulted on, from making more land available for housing development to improving the planning application process.
- Releasing public land - the Government has "an ambition to release surplus public land with capacity for 160,000 homes" during the remainder of this Parliament. The white paper also contains reference to enabling local authorities to dispose of land for less than best value and, interestingly, with the benefit of planning permission which they have granted to themselves (currently restrained by legislation which prevents third parties being able to rely on such consent). It is not immediately clear what benefit this will bring as a developer will almost certainly want to get its own consent or seek to vary what has already been secured.
- Increasing densities – accepting that there is not one size that fits all, there is a suggestion that better use of land is made, particularly in urban areas which are well-served by public transport. It is accepted that flexibility needs to be introduced so that sites are not constrained by inappropriate space standards or open space requirements. There is a clear nod to taller buildings and compact living models. Rights to light will need to be borne in mind.
- Thinking pink - whilst encouraging a minimum level of smaller sites, the government recognises the benefits of garden villages and other new settlements over piecemeal expansions to existing settlements, particularly as the former can be supported by necessary infrastructure. More may be to come on the topic of new settlements as 'pink zones', as recommended in the Centre for Policy Studies' recent report. Such an initiative could allow for new settlements to be developed by a special purpose vehicle under a much-simplified consents system, drawing on NSIP and New Towns legislation.
- Information, information, information – the white paper recognises the importance of good design in achieving a community's support for new development and there is talk of supporting 3D models for helping to better engage with local communities. There are also proposals to require applicants to provide information about their proposed timing and pace of delivery in order to better analyse housing needs, and to require authorities to consider the chances of a site being built out, based on any previous history of unimplemented consents, when determining planning applications.
- Resourcing – it will be music to the ears of many that this theme crops up more than once. Whether it be to help secure better design, or more generally to ensure that departments can recruit and retain skilled professionals, it seems to be recognised that more funding is needed to get things moving. Come July 2017, authorities will be able to increase planning fees by 20% and there are proposals to allow a further 20% increase in due course and in certain circumstances. More directly, the government is to make £25m of new funding available for "ambitious authorities in areas of high housing need".
Consultation is now open on many of the issues raised by this white paper. You have until 2 May to have your say here.