Government lays down planning rules for future housing

LGA says new rules are “hugely disappointing” in not reflecting concerns over nationally set housing targets.

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Councils get an easier challenge to poor quality and unattractive development and communities a greater voice as to how developments should look and feel under new government guidance released today (July 24).

To help tackle unaffordable house prices in many areas across the country, the framework sets out a new way for councils to calculate the housing need of their local community-  including different forms of housing, such as retirement homes.

The LGA has described it as “hugely disappointing” that the rules didn’t reflect its concerns over nationally set housing targets, and would instead introduce a delivery test that “punishes” communities for homes not built by private developers.

CPRE brands the rules a “speculative developers’ charter” that will lead to the death of the plan-led system.

To MHCLG, the new methodology aims to deliver more homes in the places where they are most needed, based on factors including the affordability of existing homes for people on lower and medium incomes.

From November this year, councils will have a Housing Delivery Test focused on driving up the numbers of homes actually delivered in their area, rather than how many are planned for.

In addition, to ensure necessary infrastructure and affordable housing is delivered to support communities, clearer guidance for both developers and councils will also be published today.

This will outline developers as having to know what is expected of them up front, even before they submit a planning application – with  councils having greater power to hold them to these commitments.

Published by the MHCLG, the revised National Planning Policy Framework follows a public consultation launched by the prime minister earlier this year to provide a comprehensive approach for planners, developers and councils to build more homes, more quickly and in the places where people want to live.

The new rule book will focus on:

  • Promoting high-quality design of new homes and places
  • Stronger protection for the environment
  • Building the right number of homes in the right places
  • Greater responsibility and accountability for housing delivery from councils and developers

Secretary of state for communities, James Brokenshire, said a fit for the future planning system was “fundamental” to volume homebuilding.

But Brokenshire stressed that “quantity must never compromise the quality” of what is built.

“This is reflected in the new rules.

“We have listened to the tens of thousands of people who told us their views, making this a shared strategy for development in England,” he said.

Ministers have been clear on their ambition to achieve 300,000 new homes a year by the mid-2020s, which follows 217,000 homes built last year – the biggest increase in housing supply in England for almost a decade.

The new rules will see 85 of the proposals set out in the Housing White Paper and the Budget, implemented in the new National Planning Policy Framework.

  • Promoting high quality design of new homes and places
  • Refocusing on the quality and design of proposals which are in line with what local communities want, the framework ensures councils have the confidence and tools to refuse permission for development that does not prioritise design quality and does not complement its surroundings.

With an emphasis on engaging with communities and allowing residents to see proposed development before it’s even built, the new framework is pitched as encouraging councils to make use of innovative new visual tools to promote better design and quality – which will also make sure new homes fit in with their surroundings.

Adopted neighbourhood plans will, the MHCLG says, demonstrate clear local leadership in design quality, with the framework allowing groups seeking such plans to truly reflect the community’s expectations on how new development will visually contribute to their area.

Whilst the framework sets the strategic direction for driving up new build quality, it has scope for councils to apply these polices in the most appropriate way in their area.

And the MHCLG is promoting more effective use of the land available, claiming the rules give councils more confidence to refuse applications that don’t provide enough homes.

As outlined, the changes to the framework see the planning system align more closely with DEFRA’s ‘25 Year Environment Plan’, which aims to leave the environment in a better state for future generations.

This includes more protection for habitats, and places greater importance on air quality when deciding development proposals.

It also provides strengthened protection for ancient woodland and ancient and veteran trees across England, ensuring they can be retained for the benefit of future generations.

Whilst giving councils real flexibility to make the most of their existing brownfield land, the revised framework makes provision for exhausting “all other reasonable options” for development before looking to alter a green belt boundary.

The government has more explicitly outlined the protection of the green belt in England, explaining the high expectations and considerable evidence that would be needed to alter any boundary.

LGA chair Lord Porter said: “It is hugely disappointing that the Government has not listened to our concerns about nationally set housing targets, and will introduce a delivery test that punishes communities for homes not built by private developers.

“Councils work hard with communities to get support for good quality housing development locally, and there is a risk these reforms will lead to locally agreed plans being bypassed by national targets.”

There were, however, positives for the LGA in social rent retained in the definition of affordable housing – even if there was scope for further clarity in that definition in separating social rent from ‘affordable’ rent.

“It is also encouraging to see moves towards greater transparency in the planning system, and measures that try to resolve the challenges in negotiating the number of affordable homes through the viability process,” Porter said.

“However, the new proposals fail to give councils the powers they need to ensure homes with planning permission are built out quickly, with the necessary infrastructure, in their local communities.

“Planning is not a barrier to housebuilding, and councils are approving nine out of 10 applications.

“To boost the supply of homes and affordability, it is vital to give councils powers to ensure homes with permission are built, enable all councils to borrow to build, keep 100% of Right to Buy receipts and set discounts locally,” he said.

Matt Thomson, CPRE  head of planning, said that rather than delivering ‘what communities want’ as it claimed to promise, the new planning rulebook and its  ‘housing delivery test’ will result in almost all local plans becoming out of date within two years.

“It is a speculative developers’ charter and will lead to the death of the plan-led system.

‘Without a local plan, councils and communities have little control over the location and type of developments that take place.

“This results in the wrong developments in the wrong places – local communities’ needs are ignored and valued countryside destroyed for no good reason,” he said.

TCPA, however, welcomed what it saw as a re-commitment to Garden City principles – as called for by TCPA in a joint statement backed by over 70 organisations including councils, professional bodies, trade associations, charities, developers and designers.

TCPA chief executive Kate Henderson said the re-commitment was:”The starting point for unlocking a new generation of highly sustainable places that meet housing, employment and quality-of-life needs while promoting innovation.”

Though broadly welcoming the rules, John Acres, President of the Royal Town Planning Institute, said the “significant pressures” they put on council planning teams had to be recognised.

“It is imperative that chief executives, council leaders and politicians resource planning departments sufficiently, particularly as they will now be held more accountable for delivery under the housing delivery test and are expected to carry out more regular reviews of their plans,” said Acres.

“Our members will be vital to making the most of the new measures in the NPPF to encourage joint plan making and help different parts of the country rise up to the immense economic, social and environmental challenges ahead.

“The NPPF should support them in their professional ambition to make great places for the benefit of the public, and we look forward to seeing their ambitions realised under the new framework,” he said.

James Prestwich, Head of Policy at the National Housing Federation, said they were “glad” to see that “government has reintroduced social rented homes to its definition of affordable housing.”

He added: “We, along with many other organisations, called for this small but important step, which will certainly help to deliver more social housing, providing homes for thousands of people in need across the country.

“We know that we need to be building at least 90,000 social rented homes every year to meet demand, following eight years of sharp Government cuts. We welcome concrete proposals from the Government that help to redress this longstanding underinvestment.

“However, the Government also describes other types of housing as ‘affordable’, such as starter homes. But these are unlikely to be of any help to struggling renters or homeless families. The Government needs to focus its support and investment in social housing – this is where it is needed most.”

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