Anyone who knows me knows that my area of professional interest and my real passion is housing and planning, or what I prefer to think of as place-making. For this reason I have been following the passage of the Government’s Housing and Planning Bill with a great deal of interest and growing disquiet. My concerns about the Bill and the effects that it will have on our housing market and out countryside are numerous but here’s a summary:
1. It will do little or nothing to help those in most direct housing need – those in poor quality private-rented accommodation (they won’t regulate this either) and those growing ever older and still living with mum and/or dad. The frankly stupid enforced sell-off of council houses to fund the right-to-buy discounts for housing associations will effectively result in affordable homes currently set aside for local people being sold to buy-to-let landlords, with no real chance of replacement. While the housing associations may indeed build more homes as they sell under right to buy, many are already building for open market sale and rent. Apparently one-third of housing associations have said that they will no longer build ANY affordable homes. Shelter predicts the Bill will lead to the loss of 180,000 affordable homes over the next five years. A smaller social housing stock will not help those in most dire housing need but then they were probably less-likely to vote Tory anyway……
2. It will simply not produce the number of new homes needed. It is based on a fallacy and this can be seen in the way that planning is discussed as an ‘obstacle’ to new house building – this is quite simply wrong. The problem is not one of planning permissions it is one of building houses. Let’s take the year 2014-15….there were planning consents issued for over 260,000 homes which as the accepted number needed was 240,000 is more than adequate…..HOWEVER despite these permissions only 125,000 were built. So exactly how is planning the ‘obstacle’ then? It isn’t you see, planning isn’t an obstacle at all, it is a mechanism by which the right sort of housing can be delivered in the right sort of places to the right sort of quality.
3. There is too much of a focus on encouraging home ownership. The 20% discount for starter homes seems attractive on the surface and like Right To Buy and the criminally undervalued privatisations of the 80s and 90s it will benefit a lucky few who may well thank the Government by voting Tory in the future (funny that…) The problem with this policy is deeper than the fundamental unfairness of it though, these ‘starter homes’ will be exempt from the rigours of the planning process with a special ‘presumption in favour’ and will also be able to avoid the Community Infrastructure Levy and Section 106. So not only will they be likely to be of poor quality they will not have to contribute to the infrastructure that all houses require, the roads, schools, surgeries, parks etc. that are a vital ingredient of good places. Oh and a 20% discount will still leave many areas of the country where people on an average salary cannot dream of buying a house so it won’t even help them.
4. Design quality is barely a footnote. It does nothing to ensure that we will build well-designed, great places for people to live. Indeed the rolling back of planning policies will lead to lower quality homes. I submitted extensive written evidence to the DCLG Select Committee’s review of the New Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) carried out last year and the committee made some very good recommendations…all of these were ignored by the Government.
5. The public consultation has been very poor, it’s almost as if the Government were trying to slip this through without anyone noticing. This significant changes set out in this Bill that challenge the fundamental premise of the postwar planning system were not even subject to a White Paper. As a result there has been little discussion about the implications of the proposed deregulation, implications that will see communities further disenfranchised. That is simply not good enough.
In my view the net result will continue to be an insufficient number of poor quality homes built wherever is most profitable for developers. Yes, some people will get a nice leg-up and be able to own their home (they may even vote Tory by way of thanks) but many, many more will be waiting a very long time in often poor quality unregulated private rented homes or staying with their parents until they reach middle age. Our housing shortage is a huge problem already and it is growing by the year, this Bill does nothing to address it.