HomeMeetingsWorkshops & conferencesSEEC-CLG Housing White Paper event 6 Mar 2017

SEEC-CLG Housing White Paper event 6 Mar 2017

Housing White Paper Event 6 March 2017

 

The South East’s Ministerial consultation event – jointly organised by SEEC and DCLG – was one of 9 held around England and attended by Minister of State for Housing, Gavin Barwell MP. The meeting saw over 120 councillors, officers and representatives from industry discuss key opportunities and challenges for the South East presented by the Government’s Housing White Paper.

The White Paper ‘Fixing our broken housing market’ was published on 7 February 2017, for consultation until 2 May 2017. It includes in excess of 100 proposals that Government hopes will increase the supply of homes, many of which are subject to further consultation.

SEEC Deputy Chairman, Cllr Roy Perry opened the event and set out 2 key housing delivery challenges in the South East:

• Not enough homes are being built to deliver local housing plans and permissions – by 2015 South East local authorities had given planning permission for at least 66,750 homes that had not been built. The solution needs to involve a shared approach by public and private sectors. If councils are to face a housing delivery test proposed in the White Paper, they would need more effective tools to incentivise delivery, including the ability to levy charges where building is taking too long. It is also vital to ensure that the construction sector has a good supply of materials and that young people are trained in the skills needed to deliver housing and infrastructure.
• Councils struggle to secure funding for the affordable homes and infrastructure required to support growth. Lack of upfront infrastructure investment is a main cause of existing residents’ resistance to development. Allowing councils to retain a share of locally collected taxes such as stamp duty from first-time property sales and a greater share of business rates could help fund local infrastructure.

Surrey CC Leader, Cllr David Hodge presented suggestions for 4 areas where he believes Government changes could help local authorities deliver more housing:

• Improving land availability, including Ministers looking into whether releasing for example, 1% of Green Belt over time would help deliver the new homes that are needed.
• Tackling the 66,750+ unused planning permissions in the South East by allowing local authorities powers to charge council tax or other fees where approved homes are not built in a timely way.
• Freedom for councils to borrow more against future housing income to enable them to build the numbers and types of housing their areas need, but which the market won’t deliver.
• Funding in advance for infrastructure to support new homes to be in place before people start moving in, so new homes do not add to congestion and increase pressure on overcrowded services.

Gavin Barwell told the audience there was no ‘silver bullet’ to solve the housing crisis but that it would take lots of adjustments in a number of areas. He said that it would require all involved – developers, Local Planning authorities, land agents, utility and infrastructure providers – to cooperate and deliver.

The Minister briefly summarised proposals in the White Paper, focusing on the 3 key goals of ensuring local authorities are planning for the right homes in the right places, developers are building homes faster and there is greater diversity of building companies and construction methods. He then took questions from the audience for over an hour.

Key points for South East local authorities raised during the Q and A session include:

Powers for councils to incentivise developers

Q: South East councils need more tangible tools to incentivise delivery of 66,750 unused planning permissions – how can Ministers help address this?

A: The Minister outlined the 6 step process set out in the White Paper that he believes would help councils speed up delivery:

• Government would require more information on the timing and pace of delivery of new housing site by site. Local authorities could consider this information when planning to meet their housing need.
• National planning policy would be amended to encourage local authorities to consider how realistic it is that a site would be developed, when deciding whether to grant planning permission for housing on sites where previous permissions have not been implemented.
• Government would speed up and simplify the completion notice process, so on stalled sites local authorities could withdraw planning permission, helping stimulate building or clear unused permissions from their planned supply of land.
• New guidance for local authorities, encouraging the use of their compulsory purchase powers on stalled sites.
• Large developers would be required to publish aggregate data on their build-out rate.
• An applicant’s track record of delivering previous, similar housing schemes could be taken into account by local authorities when determining planning applications for housing development.

Mr Barwell said that if these measures do not sufficiently speed up delivery he might consider further powers. He said that it is important to get the balance right and his concern is that if the powers are too draconian it could discourage developers from making planning applications.

Local Plans, neighbourhood plans & housing need assessments

Q: If a council is nearing completion of preparing/adopting its Local Plan and the housing need calculations don’t match those produced using the new methodology proposed in the white paper, will it be rejected leaving the area without a plan in place or will there be a transition period to enable the council to assess/address the implications of the new numbers?

A: The Minister said it is important councils ‘do their duty’ and get their Local Plan in place and then it can be reviewed at a later date to ensure it is consistent with the new methodology. Government would take a pragmatic approach to councils adopting the new housing need methodology – those councils at an early stage in updating their Local Plan will be expected to adopt it. He also expects some councils will be able to argue in favour of using alternative numbers if they can show robust grounds for doing so. The Minister thinks the idea of a transition period could be sensible and asked CLG officers to look at this.

Q: Are we going to see a return to ’regional planning’?

A: Mr Barwell said he would not allow communities to be disadvantaged by unplanned growth and would intervene if councils do not get their Local Plan in place. This would not see a return to regional planning but could see groups of local authorities working together – or a county could be asked to step in to ensure a Plan is put in place.

Q: The White Paper makes a number of references to the importance of Local Plans – what role does it leave for neighbourhood plans?

A: The Minister said he is a supporter of localism and that neighbourhood plans are a key element of this. He suggested that where an area does not have a Local Plan in place, a robust neighbourhood plan might be used instead, if the proposed new number methodology is used. However he said neighbourhood plans could not be used as a way of blocking or reducing development.

Q: The requirement for at least 10% of the sites allocated for residential development in Local Plans to be half a hectare or less will have the unintended consequence of lowering housing delivery by prioritising smaller sites over ones that could deliver more homes. Will the Minister reconsider this requirement?

A: Mr Barwell said that he would continue to support the requirement as it is an effective way of ensuring all areas provide opportunities that help boost the SME construction sector.

Housing delivery test

Q: Can the Minister offer any detail on what will be included in the proposed housing delivery test and the likely timetable for introducing it?

A: The Minister said the proposed housing delivery test could be introduced through changes to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). The Minister said he expects the new NPPF to be published before the summer recess. Once the delivery test has been published the Government would release – for illustrative purposes only – details of how the delivery test would have impacted on councils if it had been applied over the past 3 years. The delivery test would then be phased in according to the timescale set out in the White Paper.

Infrastructure funding & developer contributions

Q: The South East infrastructure funding gap is estimated to be £15.4bn over the next 15 years. Will the Minister support re-allocating locally raised taxes such as first-time stamp duty and business rates to help close this gap?

A: Mr Barwell acknowledged that development is not currently funding all the infrastructure necessary to support it. This is why Government introduced the £2.3bn Housing Infrastructure Fund and has announced a review of Section 106 (S106) and Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL). He said there needs to be a way of capturing the uplift in land value resulting from the granting of planning permissions, to fund infrastructure. Government is considering the option of setting national rates for developer contributions and this could be considered in the Autumn Budget with an opportunity for consultation.

Q: How can a cross-government responsibility be introduced for organisations such as the Department for Transport, Highways Agency and National Infrastructure Commission to consider the implications for housing when allocating money for infrastructure?

A: The Minister said that this is a matter for Treasury to consider.

Q: S106 and CIL contributions for infrastructure can critically impact on a site’s viability, particularly on small and medium sized sites. Currently sites of 10 houses or less are exempt from making developers’ contributions to infrastructure. Is Government considering increasing this threshold beyond the current level of 10 houses to support SME builders?

A: Mr Barwell said he does not support increasing the threshold. He believes it is right that development makes a contribution to the infrastructure required to support it.

Green Belt

Q: References in the White Paper to development on Green Belt have been claimed by both those in favour of and those opposed to Green Belt development, to support their cause. Can you clarify Government’s position?

A: The Minister said development on Green Belt would only be acceptable where all other possibilities have been explored, including exploring options with neighbouring areas through a new ‘Statement of Common Ground’ proposed in the White Paper. He said that Government intends to clarify the position on Green Belt by giving clearer guidelines on the circumstances under which Green Belt development is and isn’t acceptable. This would create greater certainty for developers and help protect councils from litigation.

Statement of Common Ground

Q: If the Mayor of London is unable to meet his housing need within the London boundaries will he be required to prepare a Statement of Common Ground, setting out how he will work with neighbouring local authorities to meet London’s housing requirements?

A: The Minister said that there would be consultation on this issue.

Planning fees

Q: Developers sometimes find that delays in the planning process caused by under-resourced planning departments are the greatest hurdle in being able to quickly develop a site. Will the Minister support planning authorities setting fees that reflect their costs, to boost planning capacity and enable a faster service?

A: Mr Barwell said this had been addressed by the White Paper proposal to increase planning fees by 20%.

Right to Buy and forced sale of high value vacant housing stock

Q: Right to Buy is severely reducing councils’ ability to provide affordable rented housing to those that need it and one for one replacement isn’t being achieved. Will the Minister commit to review Right to Buy because it is currently too fast and too cheap?
And: In areas with high housing costs it could be argued that all the council’s stock is ‘high value’. Can the Minister offer assurances that councils won’t be forced to sell off their entire stock of council houses?

A: Mr Barwell said he is a passionate believer in Right to Buy and it is an important principle. He added that forthcoming consultation would give councils the opportunity to suggest ways of mitigating the impact of selling homes and would hopefully offer reassurances that councils in high cost housing areas would not be required to sell all their housing stock.

Housing companies

Q: It was good to see the White Paper voice support for councils that are using housing companies or joint ventures to deliver new housing. Will the Minister write a letter to all councils explicitly stating his support for these types of scheme?

A: The Minister said he would look at writing to councils in support of housing companies and other delivery vehicles.

Q: Can the Minister give assurances that councils who are being entrepreneurial – by finding ways to build houses through housing companies – will not see their stock depleted through the extension of Right to Buy to these properties?

A: Mr Barwell said he supports Right to Buy and believes it is unfair not to offer the same opportunities to all to those in similar types of housing whether owned by councils, housing associations or housing companies.

Housing mix

Q: In some areas there are large clusters of very small starter homes being built, which have no space to extend to meet residents’ needs over the long term as their families grow. How can local authorities ensure a mix of sizes is built that is appropriate to local needs?

A: The Minister said that it is the responsibility of local authorities to have a robust Local Plan in place and get the housing mix right. He said proposals in the White Paper would make it simpler and quicker for councils to get their Local Plan in place and defend it against speculative appeals by developers. He also said that it was common for people to move to a larger property as their needs changed over time.

Q: How can we ensure that enough homes are built that will meet the needs of our growing population of older people?

A: The Minister reiterated that local authorities need to get Local Plan in place and get the housing mix right.

Q: In the rush to meet our demand for housing we are in danger of prioritising volume, and many of the new houses being built are of low quality. How can we ensure that developments will deliver high quality housing that will support healthy communities in the long term?

A: Mr Barwell acknowledged the importance of good design that respects the local character of the area and said this is key to both creating healthy and attractive places to live and reducing local opposition to new development. He said proposed changes to the NPPF would enable communities to have a greater voice in the design of new housing at an early stage, driving up both quality and character.

Q: A large number of older people live in family-sized homes with excess space they no longer need. Will the Minister introduce financial incentives to downsize, to increase the availability of housing for families?

A: The Minister said that he is open to ideas on the issue but that he isn’t convinced financial incentives are needed. There is already a financial incentive to downsize as it would typically release a large amount of equity. He believes that much of the reluctance to downsize is due to the emotional attachment people have to their home rather than financial considerations.

Exemptions to permitted development rights

Q: Permitted development rights can impact on councils’ ability to control and manage development in their area. Will Government allow councils discretion to set local exclusions to permitted development rights?

A: Mr Barwell said that any council could make an Article 4 application for an exemption to permitted development rights. He said that as long as the council is delivering housing at the level of assessed need and has a Local Plan in place, he doesn’t think either he or the Secretary of State would expect a problem approving an exemption.

National Parks and AONB

Q: Some areas are covered by National Parks, where it is almost impossible to build any new housing. How can local authorities achieve the housing growth needed?

A: Mr Barwell said that many consider that attractive villages are part of what makes National Parks special places and that some increase in the size of villages is possible, to deliver new homes. He pointed out that development is not totally prohibited in National Parks. Development which addresses local need and fits in with local character is necessary and desirable.

Q: The constraints on development aren’t limited to land within an AONB, but can extend to proposals on land within sight of it. How can Government help councils ensure that land appropriate for development and adjacent to AONBs can be used for new homes?

A: The Minister said that he would ask CLG officers to consider this issue.