Memorandum by the National Housing Federation
PLANNING GREEN PAPER
The National Housing Federation represents over
1,400 independent, not for profit social housing providers in
England. The Federation's members include housing associations,
co-ops, trusts and stock transfer organisations, and they own
and/or manage more than 1.7 million homes provided for affordable
rent, supported housing and low cost home ownership, and deliver
an increasingly diverse range of community and regeneration services.
The large majority of the Federation's members are registered
with the Housing Corporation.
1. THE EFFECTIVENESS
Simpler statements of core policies supplemented
by action plans should be easier to get to grips with than lengthy
local plans and Unitary Development Plans. The planning system
needs to be a simpler, clearer conduit for land use decisions,
and the proposals are sympathetic to that objective.
The core policy statement should be supplemented
by a district-wide map illustrating where the main development
activity will take place. One of the problems with part-area local
plans prior to the 1991 legislation was that necessary, but unpopular
development, was sometimes not allocated (or not sufficiently
allocated) within the properly planned area and assumed to go
in the area not mapped. It is important that the new system does
not allow that kind of buck-passing.
We see risks in moving towards a system in which
Local Development Frameworks implement the land use aspects of
Community Strategies that local authorities have a duty to produce
and implement. Community social, economic, and environmental well-being
all have land use aspects, and whilst there is an inherent attraction
in community-based planning, there will be no constituency to
insist on the provision of unpopular developments. These may include
some of the supported housing that housing associations provide
for vulnerable people, andin some instancesgeneral
needs affordable housing. It is not clear how the Government proposes
to address this issue.
2. THE ROLE
We welcome the establishment of Regional Spatial
Strategies and their proposed statutory basis. These should provide
a framework for other regional strategies. To enable them to work
effectively, the Government should recognise their contribution
by funding them properly, rather than simply issuing advice that
regions should undertake the work within their existing budgets.
We welcome the opportunity that Regional Spatial
Strategies will create to achieve closer integration of the land
use aspects of society's interests in health, education, transport,
waste, etc. Efforts are already being made in the preparation
of Regional Planning Guidance to take into account these wider
interests, but Regional Spatial Strategies will inspire both greater
effort in this regard and also more enthusiasm amongst the other
interests to examine the land use issues generated by their own
strategies at the regional level.
It is important that the proposed abolition
of county structure plans does not result in policy that would
otherwise have been specified at the county level being presented
at the regional level instead. Coupled with the proposal to slim
down national planning policy, we consider that care will be needed
to limit the material that funds its way into regional policy.
The criterion for deciding whether or not to have a regional policy
on an issue should be: "does this issue have distinctive
qualities in this region". If not, the issue should be dealt
with at another tier.
3. THE PROCEDURES
The Federation supports the view that some development
projects are of a national significance that cannot be the subject
of unacceptably long inquiries. These have proven to be prohibitively
expensive and it is not clear that they improve the quality of
the decision that is finally made. We have concerns that the parliamentary
process will be subject to a "three line whip", thus
making proper parliamentary scrutiny less robust. It will be of
paramount importance that MPs whose constituencies are affected
by proposed schemes are adequately supported, both administratively
4. BUSINESS PLANNING
This approach repeats past mistakes in assuming
that it is the planning system that is holding up allegedly vital
development. There is no evidence for this: the Department's own
report on cluster development, for example, prepared by the consultancy
Ecotec, found that planning was not an issue inhibiting cluster
development. Where certain high profile developments are refused,
this is for good reason.
We also feel that the Government has misunderstood
the essentially desirable nature of planning as a means of both
ensuring high quality development in sensible places and as a
means of protecting the legitimate interests of existing land
uses and people. We reject the idea in paragraph 2.10 that "Business
planning zones will allow planning controls to be lifted where
they are not necessary." They are necessary everywhere but
require sensitive application.
5. PROPOSED CHANGES
The Federation has no major comments on proposed
changes to CPOs but would welcome reforms that assist regeneration
projects with planning consent that are in danger of delay, caused
by intransigent or absentee landowners.
On Planning Obligations, the Federation makes
the following points:
Subject to safeguards, we welcome the proposals
in principle. The main adjustment we would like to see is less
opportunity for local variation in how tariff is raised, waived
and used. The draft proposals would generate a significant rulebook
in each authority, which would be very difficult to get to grips
with for our members who often have to deal with many local authorities.
Certainty and simplicity would not necessarily be the outcome.
Far more likely would be developers playing one authority off
against another in an effort to drive down tariff rates.
We consider it important that if housing associations
act as the developer they should be exempt from payment of the
tariff. This should also apply to redevelopment of existing stock
held by registered social landlords. As the intended beneficiary
of "a large proportion" of the anticipated tariff, to
levy tariff on new affordable homes would be robbing "Peter
to pay Paul" and give a false impression of additional funding.
The principal effect of the change on local
planning services will be to oblige planning staff to understand
fully and clearly the financial aspects of the development proposals
they are dealing with. Until now this has not been necessary.
Planning schools and training courses must gear up for this, and
the Government must put in place the measures necessary to ensure
that the system will work properly from its first day of operation.
It is essential that the provision for affordable
housing be realistically budgeted for within the negotiated tariff.
The budgeted amount should reflect the cost of buying into the
housing development that is deriving the tariff being negotiated.
A key issue is that the obligation for providing affordable housing
is being transferred to another partnerthe housing associationfrom
the developer by the tariff approach.
It is important that any requirement for onsite
provision that will facilitate mixed balanced sustainable communities,
is not lost once the tariff is paid by the developer to the local
planning authority. It is, therefore important that the tariff
system is not purely cash based, and that "in kind"
contributions such as onsite affordable housing units at discounted
prices are considered as appropriate forms of tariff.
Regarding brownfield sites, the Federation is
particularly concerned that local planning authorities will be
able to reduce or waive the requirement for a tariff (and consequently
affordable housing funded by the tariff) if the site is considered
too difficult, with a tariff levied, to develop. Whilst the local
planning authority's planning brief for the site may include a
requirement for affordable housing, which may in turn reduce the
land consideration paid to the vendor, it is not clear that the
local planning authority and the affordable housing provider will
be in a particularly strong bargaining position to ensure that
an appropriate level of affordable housing is provided on site.
Using Greater London as an example, most available sites for development
now and in the future can be considered as brownfield sites by
both developers and local planning authorities. Much social housing
in the future will be provided from such sites and it is imperative
that the supply of affordable housing is safeguard by the planning
We welcome the extension of tariffs (to raise
money for affordable housing) to both commercial developments
and to all but the smallest housing developments, both of which
Federation has been requesting for some time. There is a particularly
strong connection between commercial development and the need
for affordable housing, as it is employment growth in an area
that is often at the heart of rising demand for housing there.
We support the use of a mechanism that, by virtue
of being clear from the outset, will enable some or all of the
costs to be passed on to the landowner, rather than have to be
absorbed by the developer or eventual customer.
The implications of the proposals for affordable
housing will need considerable further attention. The National
Housing Federation wishes to work with the DTLR to tackle these
points. There are some very real risks in the proposals that we
urge the Government to address:
The arrangements must be organised
to ensure that the level of tariff generated substantially exceeds
the value of the affordable housing which housing associations
are currently able to negotiate within existing planning policy.
There is currently insufficient evidence in the Government's proposals
that this can be relied upon. There is a significant level of
local choice about tariffs that is offered (which could easily
work against affordable housing provision). The worst outcome
of the proposals would probably be to establish the arrangements
and then only insist on a very small minimum level of tariff.
The proposals are silent about the
relationship between tariff funding and other Government funding
for affordable housing. There is a risk that the Housing Corporation
will have an eye to the availability of tariff in deciding its
own allocations, rather than treating its own funds and tariff
as additional. In the longer term we are worried that Housing
Corporation funding will be cut as the significance of tariff
Private house builders might be able
to claw back some of the tariff they have paid unless the economic
rules which underpin negotiations between private developers and
housing associations for on-site provision of affordable housing
are set firmly. Most crucially, there should be controls over
the price that developers can charge housing associations for
land and build cost for affordable housing within mixed tenure
We have identified at least five
stated objectives for the tariff system in the consultation paper,
of which the provision of affordable housing is only one. We support
the strong emphasis given to affordable housing, but we would
welcome the withdrawal of some of the other commitments if we
are to be sure that the Government's intentions for affordable
housing are to be delivered. In particular we are very doubtful
of the merit of the idea that an objective should be that "the
local community is not disadvantaged by accepting development
in their area" (para 2.3). It is clear that this is intended
to buy off self-interested residents. This is potentially a very
slippery slope. As well as being contrary to all planning principles,
it will have the reverse effect from that intended: it will simply
encourage people to hold on for a still bigger payoff and carry
Each local authority should be required
to set up a special unit of staff devoted to implementing the
tariff regime. This should be physically and culturally separate
from the planing team. It is essential to the credibility of the
planning service that planning decisions are not seen as a tax
raising activity, as that would call into question the true reason
for each planning decision.
The issues highlighted above are explored more
fully in the Federation's Planning Green Paper submission to the
6. WHETHER THE
Greater speed in planning decisions is of course
a worthwhile objective, provided this does not undermine other
objectives, such as public involvement and high quality decisions.
We are anxious that one way to speed up planning decisions will
be to reject in principle arguments for on-site provision of affordable
housing, since this will inevitably result in negotiating taking
longer than they otherwise would. It is therefore essential that
measures of speed in planning administration are drafted in a
way which does not penalise the time taken on the often difficult
schemes with which housing associations are involved.
Speed of decision is not a universal problem.
It is the larger and more controversial schemes which tend to
take much longer than we would like, but it is difficult to see
how setting tougher targets for planning authorities will achieve
real benefits: authorities will have little choice but to respond
by pruning the non-statutory but frequently higher quality features
of their services to achieve the arbitrary deadlines. We would
prefer to see a system of quality measured by customer satisfaction,
which allows speed to be considered alongside alternative benefits.
The monitoring used by the Planning Inspectorate might be a suitable
We note that the Green Paper proposes that planning
permissions should lapse after three years instead of five. This
serves to illustrate, at least in some cases, that planning is
not on the critical path of a development. There must be some
doubt that a few days saved on a planning application is worth
the effort when major developments particularly can take so long
to bring to fruition.
The planning profession and system is a key
stakeholder in the urban renaissance needed for England's towns
and cities. A single criticism that has been levied at the planning
in the past has been its perceived conservatism in the face of
increased demands for more flexible approaches to land use and
urban design. Another criticism has been planning's perceived
inability to deal quickly and effectively with planning applications
for major developments, including those which include affordable
The National Housing Federation believe that
the planning profession and system have a difficult task attempting
to balance the needs of developers wishing to undertake schemes
quickly, whilst ensuring that the scheme in question meets national
and local criteria and priorities. Developers often complain that
local planning authorities' requirements for affordable housing
are unduly onerous, despite the case that the requirement to provide
affordable housing on new developments over 25 units (15 in Inner
London) rests with the developer not the local planning authority.
The Federation believes that the urban renaissance
agenda can only be a success if the planning profession begin
to see itself as custodians of the vision set out in the Government's
Urban White Paper. This will require an acknowledgement by the
planning profession and other stakeholders of the value of:
Good quality urban design from developers
with appropriate planning powers to enforce such quality from
the drawing board to the site.
Effective integration of the Local
Development Frameworks into the area's Community Strategies.
Recognition of the intrinsic benefit
that affordable housing offers to the desired objective of mixed,
balanced sustainable communities.
A robust appreciation of planning's
contribution to the sustainability agenda.