The Planning for Housing conference was organised for its fifth year by the Ministry of Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG). The annual national gathering for key players within the public and private sector took place on 9th and 10th October to discuss and explore solutions to the complex issues affecting the housing sector. The two-day conference including thought-leading debates, practitioner-led workshops and multi-regional case studies focused on ways to get more homes allocated, permitted and delivered. Senior officials examined the implications of recent government planning policies while major housebuilders, developers and other housing providers explain how innovative products can help meet housing need.
Compulsory purchase (CPO)
Liz Peace, chair of the Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation in west London, said councils should make more use of compulsory purchase order (CPO) powers when it comes to the redevelopment of brownfield land. As greenfield land has almost gone, Peace noted that "what is left is challenging brownfield sites that all need a degree of infrastructure investment"and therefore new approaches to financing are needed.
At the same session, it was also discussed that the increased housing targets combined with protection strategies of green belt land, open spaces and industrial land set into the new London Plan will result in more pressure outer London boroughs will take more pressure as they will have to be more active in the market to identify sites.
New method of calculating local housing need
The aim to consult on a revised method of calculating housing need before Christmas, was announced by the government. Although the Office for National Statistics projection, published last month, showed a substantial drop in the predicted household growth rates, it was clear the revised method will still aim to meet the overall target of delivering 300,000 homes per annum by the mid-2020s laid down in the NPPF.
Land value capture
The idea that land value capture can provide a “pot of gold at the end of the rainbow”to deliver new infrastructure and housing is misguided and the system needs to be "more flexible"and "more responsive"in capturing rises in land value, the conference found.
According to the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) "local authorities should be given further powers to capture a fair proportion of increases in the value of land from planning and infrastructure provision". This should include giving local authorities "powers to levy zonal precepts on council tax where public investments in infrastructure drive up surrounding property”. NIC also called for the removal of all section 106 pooling restrictions by 2020 to allow local authorities to use the planning gain mechanism "more effectively"to finance new infrastructure.
In the same vein, the need of a new system for capturing uplift in land value was also highlighted by the Labour Party. Further engagement of the community to the planning process in partnership with the local authorities was proposed as a way to bring forward more land while the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) and section 106 systems were described as “no longer fit for purpose”.
Regarding the appeal system, the conference was told work to speed up the appeal process is being assessed via the government’s Rosewell review and internal work by the Planning Inspectorate (PINS).
PINS is expected to reveal a "completely refreshed way"to submit planning appeals via its appeals portal by the middle of next year. The process will require all documents to be submitted at the point the appeal is lodged as an effort to reduce the number of invalid submissions while the appellants will be able to see in the portal the stage of their appeal, helping to avoid what she described as the "PINS black hole".
Not surprisingly reference was made also to the latest rewrite of Planning Practice Guidance and the new rules for the viability assessments. It was argued that the new approach would "have the effect of suppressing the land market, suppressing the release of sites and slowing the amount of housing and affordable housing which is delivered".
Efforts to meet ministers’ target of delivering 300,000 homes a year in England by the mid-2020s are being made by the government’s reconstituted national housing agency. Homes England, apart from the launch of recruitment drive to meet the targets, is also looking to take forward 220 development sites over the next three years.
Affordable Housing – Small Housing Sites
The differences between the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and the London Plan regarding affordable housing and small sites was another topic of discussion. Senior officials discussed the contradictions between the NPPF guidance, which proposes developments of one to nine homes to be exempted for contributions, and the London Plan which proposes consideration of local context when it comes to the developer’s obligations.
The design section of the Planning Practice Guidance is currently being rewritten and expected to be launched in the spring. According to the government’s architectural and built environment advisor, densification will be promoted and the key challenges for councils in pushing for greater densification would include applying such policies to rural contexts and securing community support.
Innovation in the housebuilding sector
According to the sector’s experts, innovation is key to meeting housing needs. Build-to rent and modular construction were cited as major opportunities for creating new homes at scale by the British Property Federation while the stockpiling of construction materials in the case of a no-deal Brexit was also proposed by Galliford Try. The import and export of materials post-March 2019 is expected to be a huge challenge. Increased taxes and tariffs are also expected as a result of changes to the customs union arrangements.
Article prepared by Michaela Kekeri MSc, MEng