Industry Update - Housing White Paper published

The long-awaited housing white paper was released yesterday and contained a number of radical reforms for planning, development and construction. Here is a rundown of some of the key announcements:

Planning fees increase

From July, local authorities will be able to increase planning fees by 20% if they agree to invest the extra money into their planning department. The government is also set to consult on introducing fees for planning appeals, which would then be refunded if the appeal is successful.

Starter homes policy significantly reduced

In a significant retreat, 10% of all developments will have to consist of “affordable home ownership” units (ministers had previously instructed 20%) Any starter homes will only be available to those buying with a mortgage, as opposed to cash, and a household income of less than £80,000 (£90,000 in London) The target of 200,000 new starter homes by 2020 (a manifesto pledge) has also been abandoned – with the government instead targeting 200,000 ‘new home owners’ by that date.

Ministers to toughen up on developers

Developers that do not build on sites where they have planning permission could see their land seized by local authorities. The government is preparing guidance to encourage local authorities to use compulsory purchase powers to seize “stalled” sites from developers and then auction off the land to other builders. The proceeds from the auction will then pay back the original developer.

Government clamping down on local authorities that block development

As well as targeting tardy developers, the government will clamp down on local authorities that are not enabling development to go ahead. From November 2018, if housing delivery is less than 25% of need (as previously identified) then developers will be granted automatic planning permission on sustainable schemes they bring forward apart from in exceptional circumstances. This will increase to 45% in 2019 and 65% in 2020. The government has also set out plans to consult on introducing a standardised method of assessing housing need in an effort to streamline the planning process.

Backing for the ‘build to rent’ (BTR) sector

In a consultation document published alongside the white paper, the government announced a range of measures aimed at encouraging the build-to-rent (BTR) sector. These include allowing local authorities to proactively plan for BTR schemes, and making it easier for BTR developers to offer affordable private rented homes. 

Green belt / brownfield sites

The government reaffirmed its commitment towardsprotecting the green belt. Local authorities could only amend greenbelt when they have explored “all other reasonable options” and any loss of green belt must be offset by higher contributions from developers or improvement to existing green belt land.

Local authorities must however place “great weight” on the value of development on brownfield land in their local areas. In addition, there was support for small and medium sized builders; with instructions that 10% of all development sites must be half a hectare or less in size, with larger sites to be divided up.