Communities Secretary Sajid Javid has laid bare details of a new approach to planning, first mooted in the government’s housing white paper.
Javid claims the plan will help give a realistic picture of how many homes each local area needs now and in future years. It will also mean more homes are built in areas where it is unaffordable, based on average earnings in each area.
Councils across England spend an estimated £3 million in taxpayers’ money every year on employing expensive consultants to work out how many new homes are needed in their area. Long legal disputes over these figures when preparing local plans can also lead to unnecessary delays and add to the costs.
The proposed changes aim to help ensure councils work to a consistent approach to plan for more homes in the right places. This is a crucial step in fixing the country’s broken housing market.
Communities Secretary Sajid Javid said, “This new approach will cut the unnecessarily complex and lengthy debates that can delay house building. It will make sure we have a clear and realistic assessment of how many new homes are needed, and ensure local communities have a voice in deciding where they go.”
The new measures could help local areas have an open conversation about the number of new homes needed, and make sure houses are built in the places they are needed.
The proposed system does not set targets, but it is a starting point to ensure that it will be quicker for each local area to produce a realistic plan of its housing need and review it at least every five years.
It will make it easier for local people to engage with the plan-making process, ensuring homes are well designed to meet the needs of all the community, and important local environmental areas are protected.
In areas that struggle to meet their needs locally – for example due to strong protections for areas like the green belt – they will need to work with neighbouring councils to plan across a wider area.
While communities across the country have agreed over 400 neighbourhood plans, the latest data shows that over 40% of councils currently do not have a plan that meets the projected growth in local households in their area.
The planned reforms will also mean that councils will have to agree how they will work with their neighbouring areas to plan for homes and supporting infrastructure such as roads and utility services.
A new ‘statement of common ground’ will see better cooperation across council boundaries on planning issues to plan for homes including in new towns or garden villages. Although there is already a duty on councils to plan together on infrastructure and public services, including housing, evidence suggests that in some parts of the country this is not working effectively.
Neighbouring councils will be expected to set out the cross boundary matters within an agreed area, looking at the housing need for the area, distribution of homes and plans to meet any shortfalls. If effective cooperation does not take place, government will be prepared to take action to ensure communities and neighbouring councils are not at a disadvantage and make sure the homes their area needs are planned for.
Following changes to the National Planning Policy Framework expected in 2018, councils will then have up to a year to get a statement of common ground in place.