Housing White Paper: A Step in the Right Direction
18 April 2017
The long awaited Housing White Paper (HWP) was published in February 2017. The Paper has been hotly debated since and we are still waiting for the outcome of the consultation.
Alice Lester MBE (Head of Planning, Transport and Licensing at Brent Council), Lorraine Hughes (Senior Director at CBRE), Sara Parkinson (Planning and Development Programme Director at London First) and Rachel Ferguson (Senior Planning Executive at Metropolitan Housing) joined us on the 11 April at Dentons‘ London office to provide their view on the HWP.
Whilst there are differing views on the HWP’s effectiveness, the panellists provided a useful insight sectors. The panellists largely agreed that, whilst the HWP is not perfect; it is a step in the right direction and it is one of the many steps that is needed to be taken to increase the delivery of homes across the UK. Hughes noted that, “the HWP is going in the right direction. There is a need to understand the barriers and harness the opportunities”.
Planning is not the panacea for housing
From the panellist’s perspective, there is a failure to fully recognise the economics of the situation. Basic supply and demand theory is too simplistic when applied to the housing market as the affordability of housing is not comparable to the affordability of other commodities such as groceries. This is because “people use housing as an investment” therefore bringing housing down to an affordable level could mean negative equity for many people.
The panel considered that the HWP does not appropriately address viability, in particular it lacks clarity on London’s position. The HWP also fails to recognise the gap between policy and available funding which often leads to the delayed delivery of sites. Little attention is paid to the importance of the plan-making stage, and the issues surrounding the Green Belt firmly remains the ‘elephant in the room’.
On the whole, the panel agreed that the answer to delivering significant levels of new homes is too complex to be simply the burden of the planning system alone and as Parkinson commented “Planning is not the panacea for delivering new housing”. The ‘solution’ is much wider and would need to incorporate economic variables, viability, and politics all of which have a significant influence on housing delivery.
Increased Planning Application Fees
Lester welcomed the proposed changes to planning application fees but emphasised that there is still likely to be disparity between the fees and the actual man-hours employed by Development Control teams. Major planning applications often end up subsidising householder applications and unless the fees are right an increase of 20% will not make much difference. Lester considered that planning application fees are only one part of a wider problem. The other issues Local Planning Authorities are facing is a clear key skill shortage, especially at principal planner level.
Hughes and Parkinson indicated that their clients and members are likely to pay the suggested increased planning application fees, but only if there were tangible improvements in decision taking. Parkinson said however, that resources were also needed in policy to increase confidence in a plan-led approach.
Speeding up delivery
Whilst the panel accepted that the private sector has a role to play in speeding up delivery of new housing, Housing Associations and Local Authorities also have an important role in the delivering of new homes.
Ferguson noted that her residential delivery rates are often stalled by the time it takes to discharge conditions. She highlighted that the time taken to clear conditions is often longer than anticipated and this impacts on the commencement date. Lester explained how this is an issue she is trying to address in her current role at LB Brent. Lester holds regular ‘condition workshops’ where officers have to justify use of non-standard conditions and are told to apply conditions with caution.
The hype around the Housing White Paper remains and there are certainly suggested measures which the built environment industry would welcome as a way to facilitate the increased delivery of new housing. As agreed at the event, the HWP cannot be a standalone mechanism and will need wider support from sectors outside planning in order to meet the housing targets.
We shall await the outcome of the government’s consultation on the paper to understand whether any of the above ideas area common themes within the wider industry.
We are grateful to our panellists for taking part in the event and of course to our sponsor and host, Dentons for their hospitality.