The Housing Zone Prospectus was published last month.  Traditionally, August is the “silly season”, with Whitehall on holiday, but this year things don’t seem to have slowed down.

The Prospectus speaks of 30 housing zones on brownfield sites across the country, as part of Government’s efforts to increase housing supply.  It sets out detail of funding which will be available for the creation of Housing Zones outside of London; a separate prospectus has been published by the Mayor of London for London Boroughs.

The Government’s expressed aim is to see planning permission for housing development on 90% of brownfield land currently identified by 2020.  The Prospectus follows George Osborne’s Mansion House speech in June, in which he promised an “urban planning revolution” with the introduction by local authorities of local development orders on brownfield sites that are suitable for housing, as a means of accelerating housing delivery - about which we comment at the end of this post.

Expressions of interest for support from the Housing Zone programme will mostly consist of two elements – a request from a local authority for an area to be designated as a Housing Zone and a bid for investment funding for enabling infrastructure works to be paid to one or a number of private sector development partners.

Eligibility criteria for a Housing Zone bid to be compliant include:

  • proposals for a minimum of 750 housing units, and generally sites should be for 750 and 2000 units
  • the majority of the designated area must be on brown field land
  • evidence of local authority partnership working with private developers to deliver the housing, without government investment
  • how good design will be achieved
  • local support e.g. the area is allocated for housing development in a neighbourhood plan, or local plan

Expressions of interest in establishing Housing Zones are encouraged for schemes making use of off-site construction and different forms of custom-build homes. 

Funding will come in two forms.  First, capacity funding for local authorities establishing local development orders, bidding for some of the £5Million local development order incentive fund 

Separately, the Housing Zone recoverable investment loan funding pot comprises £200m, to enable delivery of infrastructure including demolition and land remediation work, which is needed to get house building under way and/or other site preparation works that will support economic growth. 

The Chancellor’s initial announcement puts emphasis on housing zones being delivered using local development orders. Use of the LDO process is seen as a way of speeding up delivery but given the potential for very large sites (up to 2000 dwellings) to be identified, will there be much of a saving of time?  EIA will still be needed in (at least) a large number of the bidding sites with a comprehensive set of conditions and probably a section 106 agreement in order to secure all the necessary mitigations. Very often it is the time taken in settling these which creates perceived delay in decisions being issued.

Where bid sites do not have identified developer backing, how will it be ensured that the LDO terms are commercially deliverable over time? Although there is nothing to prevent further planning applications coming forward on LDO sites in the future, so that a “keep it simple” approach to what is permitted by the LDO does not preclude applications for planning permission later, this potentially leads to a proliferation of permissions across the site.

The LDO process is one which is promoted and driven by the local planning authority. There is some financial support for local authorities in doing this, but if the site is one which is not being brought forward by a developer through a planning application, local authorities should be quite clear what the reasons for that are, and that the LDO process (combined with whatever other powers they may use) will make the difference.