Could the Housing White Paper make matters worse?

January 12, 2017 / Isla MacFarlane
Could the Housing White Paper make matters worse?

There’s a lot riding on the Housing White Paper, reportedly due out next week. It’s expected to detail how the generous funds announced in the Autumn Statement will translate into new homes.

It’s fruitless to simply set a target. Everyone knows housing supply is dangerously low. Industry leaders fear that without an attempt to resolve some of the problems that have pained the industry for decades, the White Paper could actually make matters worse.

So what could help make things better? We asked a cross section of the industry what their hopes and fears were.

The planning system

You guessed it. Any reform would have to start with what many developers cite as their biggest hurdle.

“Councils should have to adhere to a strict thirteen week planning determination period, with their central government funding reduced by the equivalent loss of council tax caused by such delays,” suggested John McAuliffe, managing director at McAuliffe Environmental. “Consultation and license submissions with Natural England cause significant and unnecessary delays, costing huge amounts of time and money. Natural England should be permitted an initial 30 day response time, with a maximum five day response time thereafter.

“Councils should be able to set a maximum selling value per house type based on the local market and affordability. This would fix land value faster and cement expectations of landowners selling to housebuilders. Councils should also be required to obtain outline planning permission on all vacant land where more than fifty plots can be built on three acres and above. Land would be offered free or tendered, and grant funding would plug any gaps.”

Setting realistic targets

CPRE is concerned that the government will recommend setting even higher housing targets in areas of high demand in response to ‘market signals’. “If the Housing White Paper is to have any credibility with countryside campaigners, it must address the main failing of the current system – undeliverable housing targets which lead to acrimonious planning conflicts without increasing the overall number of homes built,” said Shaun Spiers, CPRE chief executive.

“Villages and small towns across England are being besieged by multiple planning applications that pay no heed to sustainability or real need. All the evidence is that if you work with communities, they will get behind necessary development, but if you seek to impose it on them, they will fight it.”

Preserving the green belt

Organisations such as the Campaign to Protect Rural England and the National Trust are concerned that rigid housing targets for local plans won’t take account of local factors such as Green Belt and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

The National Trust and LGiU hope that Ministers will take a number of sensible steps to improve the confidence that councillors have in the way the planning system works, including: More resources for Local Planning Authorities to help get local plans in place; Stronger Government backing for councils setting design standards; a smart approach to meeting housing need which allows councils to recognise local constraints and focuses development in the most appropriate places.

Encourage banks to lend

Jeremy Leaf, north London estate agent and a former RICS residential chairman, said, “I’ve been particularly involved with the acquisition and sale of land for new homes mainly in London and the Home Counties over the last 25 years. Our clients tell us that lending and planning are the most significant obstacles to change.

“History shows that there isn’t much the government can do when it comes to improving lending, other than encourage banks to be flexible and ensure schemes like Help to Buy continue to work effectively for housebuilders and first-time buyers alike.”

More starter homes

“The highly anticipated Housing White Paper is due to be released by the Government later this month,” said Andy Frankish, New Homes Director, Mortgage Advice Bureau. “A key expectation from our sector is that this paper provides some clarity around starter homes. Whilst the concept of starter homes will have changed since Cameron’s government, we do know it will still play a key part in housing plans going forward, due to the teaser announcement just before Christmas.

“At present we don’t understand how Starter Homes will work or how the scheme will be delivered, and have no lenders fully onboard. But we need a good cross section of lenders supporting the scheme at the point of launch in order for it to be successful.”

Planning reform

Ahead of the White Paper, NaCSBA met with the Minister for Housing and Planning, the Secretary of State DCLG and Number 10 to highlight the potential of the custom and self-build sector to permanently increase the capacity and output of the UK housebuilding industry.

“We should hope to see Government setting out plans to further reinforce the Right to Build legislation which commenced on October 31st 2016 and requires local authorities to bring forward sufficient serviced plots to meet demand from those who want an individually designed home,” said Michael Holmes, spokesperson for The National Homebuilding & Renovating Show and Chair of the National Custom and Self Build Association (NaCSBA).

“Custom and self-build has the potential to deliver 40-50,000 new homes a year in England by 2030, extending choice, affordability, sustainability and diversity of supply, but this will only happen with continued Government support to establish owner commissioned housing as a mainstream alternative model of delivery.

“Increasing the proportion of new homes that are bespoke and owner commissioned from eight per cent to 30 per cent would bring the UK housing market more into line with other developed economies, where custom and self-build can constitute 60-80 per cent of supply, and where they also tend to build far more new homes per capita. Increasing supply will, in time, improve affordability.”

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