The Housing Delivery Test could be up for review by August, with the House of Lords hearing of councils feeling forced by the test to approve applications for tower blocks up to 65 storeys high.
During a debate on new homes, Lib-Dem Baroness Thornhill told the House of her belief that the test was designed “to put even more pressure” on councils to deliver even more development.
“I can see where the Government are coming from, however, the regime is forcing councils in already built up and congested urban areas to accept applications for large tower blocks ranging from 20 storeys to, in Croydon for example, 65 storeys in height,” she said.
Questioning the government’s acceptance of such developments as unpopular, Baroness Thornhill pressed for a recognition that related concerns were justified.
“Such buildings will impact on the townscape and the built environment, and certainly on quality of life.
The jury is still out on the quality of family life on the 61st floor of a major tower block,” she said.
Responding for the Government, Baroness Berridge said the overall involvement of communities in the planning process would be addressed in the planning White Paper.
Standing by the Housing Delivery Test as holding councils to account, she said: “The good news is that in 2018, two-thirds of local authorities had indeed delivered to the correct threshold under the housing delivery test, but we have promised to review it after 18 months, which I believe will be in August of this year.”
The debate was underway with Tory Baroness Neville-Rolfe asking how Government was going to further its aims of building 300,000 new homes each year for the next five years and making the planning system simpler.
Baroness Berridge outlined a reviews of “everything” from planning reforms to housing zones, backed with more than £44 billion of support, over five years to focus on delivery – emphasising the delivery of more than 1.5 million new homes since 2010 and last year’s over 241,000 net additions as the highest level delivered for over 30 years.
Labour’s Lord Kennedy called for government intervention on housing sites where planning permission had not been acted on – saying a year of limbo should be long enough when there were over 250,000 applications with “nothing happening.”
Baroness Berridge countered with more than 375,000 grants of planning permission last year and drew in the Letwin Review of the build-out rate recommending a diversification of the type of units on each site, so they can be put on the market in smaller groups, appeal more widely and not affect the market price.
Tory Lord Baker harked back to Harold Macmillan’s government building 300,000 a year, having found that private housebuilders were not capable of building at that rate because they had to depend on investment by councils and housing associations.
He asked whether Government would welcome that in its target.
Baroness Berridge said that with 241,000 builds completed last year, there is evidence that such a figure can be delivered.
“Housing associations, councils and small and medium-sized enterprises, as well as self-build and custom-build, all need to be part of this, with a particular emphasis on small and medium-sized sites.
“Some 10% of the land in a plan must be of less than a hectare in size, so we need to use all those means to deliver the 300,000 homes a year that this country needs,” she said.
Labour’s Lord Cunningham took aim at the 160,000 homes targeted for surplus public sector asking why the target had not been met and whether Government could do more to encourage public sector bodies to surrender sites.
Baroness Berridge acknowledged there was now a “longer timeframe” for those 160,000 homes.
“But 51,000 homes have been delivered under that (and) it has not been for lack of effort by government departments.
“There have been complications in releasing some of the land, and some of the land has been repurposed by departments.
“For instance, the Department for Education has used some land for schools that is then not available for housing – it will take longer, but the Government take seriously their responsibility to meet that target,” she said.