‘We want everyone to have access to a decent home at a price they can afford, in a place where they want to live and work. Good quality, affordable housing enables stable and secure family lives: we are all healthier, happier and wealthier when we have decent homes close to schools, healthcare and transport links.’

On 23 July 2007, the new Housing Minister, Yvette Cooper set out the Government's proposals to increase the supply of housing, with the publication of a Green Paper on Housing (Homes for the future: more affordable, more sustainable) together with a suite of related documents. The Green Paper is over 100 pages long and sets out the Government's attempts to tackle the triple challenges of affordability of housing, the shortages of social housing and climate change. The first section of the Green Paper focuses on the record of the Government since 1997 e.g. the number of homes built on brownfield land has risen from 56% in 1997 to nearly 75% today and the level of new homes has increased by 30% since 2002 and is at its highest level for 17 years.

However, despite such claims it is acknowledged that there is a severe shortage of housing which needs to be addressed. The Government wants 240,000 new homes a year built by 2016 – with a target of 3 million new homes by 2020. Headline provisions Some of the measures set out in the Green Paper to achieve this are:

  • The four existing Growth Areas (Thames Gateway, Milton Keynes/South Midlands, London- Stansted-Cambridge-Peterborough and Ashford) to provide 200,000 extra homes in addition to their current targets – 650,000 in total;
  • The 29 New Growth Points announced in October 2006 to provide 100,000 extra homes in 45 towns and cities by 2016;
  • Five entirely new eco-towns of 5,000-20,000 homes to be builtwhere the whole development could achieve zero carbon – the Green Paper is accompanied by an Eco-towns Prospectus;
  • Provision of more rural homes via a range of measures including investment by the Housing Corporation of £230 million to provide 6,300 homes in small towns and villages through its 2006-08 affordable housing programme;
  • Mini reviews of Regional Spatial Strategies to increase regional and local targets and to revise them in whole or part by 2011, to reflect plans for 240,000 homes a year by 2016;
  • A single regional strategy integrating housing, economic and environmental issues to be prepared by Regional Development Agencies as announced by the Government in the Review of sub-regional economic development published on 17 July 2007;
  • Encouraging local planning authorities to identify enough land for at least a 15 year supply of land with 5 years worth of sites ready for development;
  • Replacement of the Planning Delivery Grant with a new Housing and Planning Delivery Grant from 2008, payable to those local authorities that meet their agreed development timetables for new housing;
  • A statement that ‘If a local authority cannot demonstrate that it has an up to date five year supply of deliverable sites, planning applications for development on other sites should be considered favourably. Where councils have not identified enough land, planning inspectors will be more likely to overturn their decisions and give housing applications the go ahead on appeal.’ (page 33);
  • The Green Paper is accompanied by practice guidance for local authorities on how to prepare Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessments which will be a material consideration in determining planning applications/ appeals where there is no core strategy or DPD in place;
  • Draft guidance on Planning Performance Agreements by the Advisory Team for Large Applications (ATLAS) accompanies the Green Paper;
  • 200,000 new homes to be delivered on surplus public sector land by 2016 with at least 50% affordable housing provision;
  • A new approach to the use of vacant land owned by local authorities by establishing the first 14 new joint venture Local Housing Companies this year (including in Manchester, Newcastle, Barking and Dagenham). These will be responsible for design, masterplanning, obtaining planning permission and commissioning development;
  • The goal of building a minimum of 60% homes on brownfield land is to remain; and
  • Encouraging local authorities to take more action to bring empty homes back into use – including their existing powers to issue an Empty Dwelling Management Order (EDMO) and the new Housing and Planning Delivery Grant.

Consultation on the PGS

Chapter 5 of the Green Paper addresses the thorny issue of infrastructure to support the new housing. It will be recalled that despite the Government provisionally listing a Planning Gain Supplement Bill in its draft legislative programme (see the separate article in this Bulletin) this was only included on a provisional basis to give developers and local authorities an opportunity to put forward alternatives. The Green Paper stresses that the Planning Gain Supplement (PGS) is still the Government's ‘preferred’ option but the Government is ‘offering local authorities and developers a further opportunity to discuss alternative approaches to PGS’. The Paper then sets out four possible alternatives to the PGS to be explored with stakeholders prior to the Pre Budget Report in November 2007 as follows:

Option A – lower rate PGS, with less scaling back of planning obligations;

Option B – a PGS limited to greenfield sites only;

Option C – a charging system based upon removal of some/all policy restrictions in Circular 5/2005 (Planning Obligations) so that local planning authorities can introduce standard charges to mitigate the impact of development; which would be set out in the Development Plan Documents;

Option D – -all local planning authorities to require developers to pay average standard charges based on the total costs of infrastructure in an area.

Further announcements on the PGS will be made in the Pre Budget Report. Accordingly it does appear that a further period of uncertainty is likely to continue until a final decision has been made on the likely form (if any) of the PGS. The PGS has come in for criticism from the house building industry as well as local planning authorities. The onus is now on the development industry to come up with a viable alternative which can raise additional money to support infrastructure ‘in a fair and nondistortionary way, and in a way that preserves incentives to develop in a variety of circumstances.’ (Green Paper)

Comments on the ideas and proposals contained in the Green Paper should be sent to DCLG by 15 October 2007.