The Government’s long-awaited Housing White Paper (‘HWP’) landed on Tuesday, leaving local authorities in no doubt that they’re being tasked with the powers and responsibility to tackle the country’s housing crisis.

Communities Secretary Sajid Javid repeated that not enough homes are being built and demanded “radical, lasting reform” to boost supply and affordability.

The measures he proposed are largely targeted at the planning system, and the rules and regulations that govern the relationship between developers and local councils. For authorities with long waiting lists for homes and planning departments that are already stretched to the limit, his message would appear to be tough.

Councils will face a new ‘housing delivery test’ that holds them accountable for their role in ensuring new homes are delivered in their area.

Specifically, this will highlight “whether the number of homes being built is below target, provide a mechanism for establishing the reasons why, and where necessary trigger policy responses that will ensure that further land comes forward.”

But Sajid Javid said he is considering giving councils the tools to do the job:

  • New regulations to require local plan documents to be reviewed every five years, and consultation on options for introducing a more standardised approach to assessing housing supply requirements
  • Amendments to national planning policy to encourage local authorities to shorten the timescales for developers to implement a permission for housing development from the default period of three years to two years
  • Clarification of the presumption in favour of sustainable development to include an indication that greater weight should be attached to the value of using suitable brownfield land within settlements for homes
  • Expecting developers to avoid "low-density" housing where land availability is short
  • Allowing a 20 percent hike in planning application fees from July 2017 if local authorities commit to investing the additional fee income in their planning departments
  • Amendments to Green Belt policy to make it clear that authorities should amend Green Belt boundaries only when they can demonstrate that they have examined fully all other reasonable options for meeting their identified development requirements
  • Examining the options for reforming the system of developer contributions in terms of the Community Infrastructure Levy and Section 106 obligations

Both house builders and local authorities agree that it will not be able to build one million homes by 2020 unless Local authority planning departments are properly funded. The HWP said the Government will ‘take steps’ to ensure the financial sustainability of planning departments.

The HWP didn’t say much about Councils resuming their historic role as a major builder of affordable homes. Authorities want to borrow to invest, and keep 100 percent of receipts from ‘Right to Buy’ properties.

But later in the Commons, Mr Javid said: “Local authorities with good sensible plans can come forward and do a deal with central government. We are listening and that invitation is in the paper."

For housing associations, it seems to be a case of ‘jam tomorrow’ with a rent policy plan for the period beyond 2020 to help them borrow against future income. But with the HWP supporting a ‘single set of metrics’ to compare efficiency, housing associations heading for the private sector should expect some extra compliance and monitoring.


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