An innovative approach to planning new homes will ensure they’re built where most needed, save councils millions of pounds every year and help deliver more affordable homes, the Communities Secretary Sajid Javid has announced today (14 September 2017).
The new approach, first mooted in the government’s housing white paper, will help give a realistic picture of how many homes each local area needs now and in future years. It will also mean more homes are built in areas where it is unaffordable, based on average earnings in each area.
Councils across England spend an estimated £3 million in taxpayers’ money every year on employing expensive consultants to work out how many new homes are needed in their area. Long legal disputes over these figures when preparing local plans can also lead to unnecessary delays and add to the costs.
The proposed changes will help boost housing supply and improve affordability. It will help ensure councils work to a consistent approach to plan for more homes in the right places. This is a crucial step in fixing the country’s broken housing market.
Communities Secretary Sajid Javid said:
As anyone who has tried to buy or rent a home recently would probably tell you, the housing market in this country is broken. The simple truth is that for far too long we haven’t built enough homes and we don’t build them quickly enough.
It’s time to fix that. This new approach will cut the unnecessarily complex and lengthy debates that can delay house building. It will make sure we have a clear and realistic assessment of how many new homes are needed, and ensure local communities have a voice in deciding where they go.
A new approach to boost housebuilding
This government has pledged in its 2015 commitment to deliver 1 million homes by the end of 2020, and a further half a million more by the end of 2022.
Government action to date has helped to stabilise the market and turn the tide of the economic downturn.
Housebuilding in England is now at the highest level since 2008 with nearly 190,000 homes delivered, and 304,000 houses given planning permission in the last year.
These new measures proposed will help local areas have an open conversation about the number of new homes needed, and make sure we build more houses in the places they are needed to provide for a growing population.
The proposed system does not set targets, but it is a starting point to ensure that it will be quicker for each local area to produce a realistic plan of its housing need and review it at least every 5 years. It will make it easier for local people to engage with the plan-making process, ensuring homes are well designed to meet the needs of all the community, and important local environmental areas are protected.
In areas that struggle to meet their needs locally – for example due to strong protections for areas like the green belt – they will need to work with neighbouring councils to plan across a wider area.
The government has introduced a range of planning reforms since 2010 to help councils and communities shape their local area, including abolishing the unpopular, ineffective regional strategies and giving more power to local and neighbourhood plans.
While communities across the country are fully embracing these powers and have agreed over 400 neighbourhood plans, the latest data shows that over 40% of councils currently do not have a plan that meets the projected growth in local households in their area.
Neighbouring councils working together
The planned reforms will also mean that councils will have to agree how they will work with their neighbouring areas to plan for homes and supporting infrastructure such as roads and utility services.
A new “statement of common ground” will see better cooperation across council boundaries on planning issues to plan for homes including in new towns or garden villages. Although there is already a duty on councils to plan together on infrastructure and public services, including housing, evidence suggests that in some parts of the country this is not working effectively.
Neighbouring councils will be expected to set out the cross boundary matters within an agreed area, looking at the housing need for the area, distribution of homes and plans to meet any shortfalls. If effective cooperation does not take place, government will be prepared to take action to ensure communities and neighbouring councils are not at a disadvantage and make sure the homes their area needs are planned for.
Following changes to the National Planning Policy Framework expected in 2018, councils will then have up to a year to get a statement of common ground in place.
Assessing housing is only the starting point in the preparation of Local Plans. Councils then need to work with their local communities to take account of green belt and any other constraints, discuss with adjoining councils, and decide how many homes they can build, and where.
The public consultation launched today will run for 8 weeks until 9 November 2017.
New rules which have come into force ensure that the plans people have worked so hard to create are used as the starting point for determining local planning applications up to 8 weeks earlier following a successful referendum.
The changes will also mean that when councils are making planning decisions, they must respect emerging neighbourhood plans which have passed examination but not yet been agreed at a referendum.