Our thoughts on PM’s commitment to “rewrite the rules on planning”

During her speech earlier this week, the Prime Minister announced plans to “rewrite the rules on planning” to help tackle the housing crisis.

Mrs May also linked the cost of housing, both for ownership and rent as reinforcing economic divisions leading to growing social immobility, with public sector workers unable to take jobs in certain parts of the country.

So, is planning reform really the silver bullet to help deliver the new housing we so desperately need?

The PM suggests that planning is at the very heart of delivering more homes, and announced plans to give councils and developers the backing they need to get more homes built more quickly including:

  • 10% of homes on major sites should be available for affordable home ownership
  • Builders to be more open about affordable housing commitments at planning stage
  • Councils will have to adopt a new nationwide standard showing housing need in their areas
  • Infrastructure needs to be considered at pre-planning stage
  • Councils to consider revoking planning permission after two years if building has not started
  • Ancient Woodland and aged trees to get specific protection

The PM criticised bonuses paid to the heads of some of the biggest developers based on profits and share price rather than number of homes, calling it perverse and suggested giving councils the right to take the build-out rate into account when granting planning.

Mrs May also insisted that the answer to the housing crisis was not in “tearing up” the green belt, suggesting that cities surrounded by green belt needing to increase housing availability should make better use of brownfield sites, building upwards rather than outwards. New rules will make it easier to do this, allowing for minimum densities around transport hubs and city centres so that more homes can be built in areas with the highest demand.

The PM also announced a clamp down on Viability assessment rules, to prevent developers changing affordable housing commitments.  Ministers are also calling for these assessments to be made public.

As a firm that test viability appraisals on behalf of local authorities we do think further tightening of the rules and the disinfectant effect of transparency will result in the delivery of more affordable homes.

We are concerned that the commitment for 10% of homes being available for affordable homes ownership may impact local housing needs assessments  and authorities ability to obtain the affordable rented homes they need.

It is hard to argue with the notion of transparency at planning stage, but that goes both ways. Councils also need to be clear about the detail of their Section 106, CIL and other consultations and the detail of their choices “up-front”.

We look forward to understanding the nationwide standard for demonstrating housing need, it strikes us that this has not been a major issue and already has a fairly standard model applied.

The PM has also strengthened existing protections for green belt areas, it has been reported that brownfield land has the capacity to supply 1m new homes, the question is given the complexity of some brownfield sites, is this policy really sustainable in the current housing crisis?

Research by the Local Government Association found there are 423,000 homes with planning permission still waiting to be built, legislation that brings these homes forwards is, of course welcome.