A ‘broken housing’ system goes in for repairs
Plans for a total of 12 new homes in South Holland were due to be considered by 15 district councillors at a meeting in Spalding on Wednesday night.
But compared to the target set by South Holland District Council of building 467 new homes a year, in each of the next 20 years, the considerations by the council’s planning committee represents mere “petty cash change”, according to district council leader Coun Gary Porter.
We’re looking for a solution to a very complex problem here and planning reform isn’t something that has an effect quickly
If proof was needed that the problem of housing delivery was weighing heavily on the minds of Prime Minister Theresa May and her ministers, it came with the launch of a new government to “fix the broken housing market and restore the dream of home ownership for a new generation”.
The previous 16 words come from a report on a new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), unveiled on Monday and essentially a guide book for district and borough planning authorities, including South Holland, South Kesteven and Boston, in granting permission for new developments.
Coun Porter said: “We’re building about 250 houses a year and we built 230 last year, which is about 200 short of the housing completions target laid out in the current South East Lincolnshire Local Plan 2011-2036.
“But that’s not the fault of South Holland District Council because we don’t build the houses - we just give permission to build them and we have 3,268 planning permissions granted as things stand already.
“So the Government is trying to simplify the planning system to allow smaller developers to enter the housing market and to get existing developers who have agreed on planning obligations to deliver them.
“For South Holland, the new NPPF won’t make that much difference and we’re not going to see a sudden spurt in new housing developments.
“But what will change is that developers won’t be able to hide behind viability assessments (a test as to whether the value to be made on new housing is more than the cost of building it) so that we’ll get the housing delivery promised.”
In essence, the Government is trying to mediate between councils determined to get maximum value from new developments in their areas and the housebuilders themselves who want greater clarity and certainty about the conditions for development.
Ian Canham, chief executive of Weston Hills-based Broadgate Homes, said: “There is no doubt that there is a need to build more homes in order to allow more people, especially the young, to access the housing market.
“However, we’re looking for a solution to a very complex problem here and planning reform isn’t something that has an effect quickly.
“Any solution that offers a real answer is one that looks to provide change over a period of time and allows for people to plan for their future housing requirements.
“It’s easy to apportion blame on developers for the shortage of new homes being built.
“But when you consider that in order to bring a site forward, a developer has to deal with a number of government organisations that are all looking for contributions from the development, then clearly there will be a lengthy process undertaken to negotiate with all of these agencies, and the local authority, before developments can commence.
“If the system is to be overhauled then I would suggest that the Government may want to look closer to home when it starts the process.”
Reforms proposed by Housing Secretary Sajid Javid include the “fast-tracking” of planning permissions to help first-time housebuyers, more partnership working between councils, developers and community groups and a new housing delivery test against which councils will be judged on the new homes built in their districts.
From a developer’s viewpoint, the main highlight in the Government’s proposals is a new system for deciding how much housebuilders should contribute to the impact of new homes on a community in terms of school places, medical centres, transport and leisure.
Mr Canham said: “A fair, streamlined system of realistic contribution targets for developments would quicken and increase delivery, far more than the threat to remove permissions (although this point is noticeably absent from the NPPF report). “The Government itself knows that large development projects take time to plan and get to the delivery stage.
“So how a reported threat to remove permission after two years will encourage developers to invest in the planning process is beyond me.
“One size does not fit all when it comes to planning and a policy that takes into account ‘landbanking’, prevalent in the South East of England, isn’t necessarily appropriate in the rest of the country.
“It’s clear more housing is required in this country, but it’s also clear that decisions regarding where, when and how new homes are built are best left to local planners and politicians, as they know their areas better than government ministers.”
Coun Porter said: “The new NPPF has a presumption in favour of local development and, in South Holland, there should be at least 467 homes a year being built here.
“But instead it’s 250 homes a year and the housing supply will only grow at the rate people are building and buying them.”
Housebuyers, developers, planning authorities and the wider public sector can all their say over the next two months on the Government’s planning reforms.
The NPPF proposals are open for public consultation until Thursday, May 10, after a speech by Housing Secretary Sajid Javid in London on Monday.
Mr Javid said: “Over the years, we’ve simply failed to build enough homes and the result has been soaring house prices and rents which have effectively locked out a generation from entering the housing market.
“Getting communities on board is vital if we’re to deliver homes at the scale and pace that’s needed.
“The revision of the NPPF comes with a continued emphasis on development that’s sustainable and led locally, but offering councils flexibility to build more houses, with greater responsibility for really delivering for their communities.
“This means, firstly, working with communities to get plans in place as quickly as possible so that development is dictated by what local people want and not by speculative applications.
“Councils will have much more scope to make the most of existing land, thanks to extra reforms beyond those previously consulted on.
“But not, I must stress, at the expense of quality but with high design standards that communities are happy to embrace remaining a priority.”
Responding to Mr Javid’s speech, John Hayes, MP for South Holland and the Deepings, said: “It’s good to see the Government focusing on housing and to have these initial thoughts from the Housing Secretary.
“But more needs to be done to promote home ownership by looking at access to capital and equity, as well as the regenerative power that new housing can bring.”