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Government signals intent to get tough on housebuilding industry

Government signals intent to get tough on housebuilding industry

5th March 2018

Theresa May's wide-ranging speech in support of the newly announced draft National Planning Policy Framework showed that the government is prepared to tell, not simply encourage, housebuilders and private developers to deliver the housing growth urgently needed in England and Wales.

Governments since 2010 have consistently recognised the need to build more homes, but have come up short when seeking to address the problem. The Prime Minister's speech, which addressed a broader range of issues than simply the content of the draft National Planning Policy Framework, signalled that the government is beginning to look beyond Planning Departments as the cause of the housing crisis.

The draft National Planning Policy Framework is unashamedly pro-housing growth, with support for new housing delivery across the board, from major strategic development on brownfield sites to small scale upwards extensions. However, it was the message to housebuilders, which will not be addressed fully in the National Planning Policy Framework, that made the strongest impression. Perhaps the most striking announcement was the threat to effectively blacklist developers with a track record of sitting on planning consents or avoiding affordable housing delivery. How this statement and others can be translated into policy or legislation remains to be seen.

It appears that the Government's new hard-line approach may be in direct response to the 'youthquake' of the 2017 General Election. Then young people voted in their droves for a Labour Party that promised an end to expensive and poor quality housing in the context of a poorly regulated private rental sector that many young people are locked in to. At the time, the government was seen to be inactive on issues affecting young people. Now it is looking to show that it wants young people of all incomes to get on the property ladder or into high quality private rental homes.

Today's speech and the release of the draft National Planning Policy Framework coincided with an announcement by Guardian Cities that not one of 14,667 homes granted Planning Permission in Manchester over the past two years will be affordable. Less than 5% of homes permitted during the same period in Sheffield (1.6%), Leeds (3.4%) and Nottingham (3.8%) are affordable and the situation is not much better in Bristol (6.8%) and Birmingham (14%). All of these figures are well below the respective Council's policy target for affordable housing.

Despite being the focal point of the Prime Minister's frustration, many in the housebuilding industry will be pleased with the pro-development focus of the draft National Planning Policy Framework. There is no doubting that the sector as a whole is keen to see more homes being built, a view that is reinforced by the recent near universal support for the increase in Planning Application fees by 20%, which has helped to better resource Planning Departments and is expected to speed up decision making.

The housing industry will hope that the pro-housebuilding rhetoric of Central Government will filter down to Local Planning Authorities and Town and Parish Councils preparing Neighbourhood Plans. The industry will also wait to see if the government is prepared to maintain its approach when it comes to decisions on Planning Appeals, or if local political pressure against new development will continue to win out as it has often done.

Article by Alasdair Buckle, Senior Planner.