Housing and Planning Bill

Written Evidence submitted by Jack Straw, Chair of the Surrey Planning Working Group (HPB 128)

Housing and Planning Bill

This submission is made on behalf of the Planning Policy Lead Officers from the 11 district and borough authorities in Surrey, and Surrey County Council.

We welcome the opportunity to provide evidence to the Public Bill Committee .

We consider that the Housing and Planning Bill provides the opportunity to address a number of issues and inconsistencies within planning legislation. We support Government’s aspirations for an efficient planning system, increased levels of housebuilding across the country and in particular the provision of affordable housing choices for those most in need.

However we have some concerns about how the Bill, as currently drafted, will or could be implemented. We are not persuaded that it will achieve the above aspirations.

Rather than provide a critique of the whole Bill, we will focus on the areas of most concern to us . Our detailed evidence is included in the Annex to this letter. I n summary:

Starter Homes:

· The proposed provisions represent a fundamental undermining of the ability for local planning authorities to secure much needed 'traditional' genuinely affordable forms of affordable housing ;

· The Bill takes a dangerous short-termist approach in failing to protect starter homes in perpetuity , which raises concerns that starter homes will essentially become an investment product for those who can afford them ; and

· It demonstrates a lack of understanding and disregard for the cumulative impact of new development on local services and infrastructure.

Self Build and Custom Housebuilding:

· The provisions in the Bill are inflexible and unnece ssary ;

· They undermine the ability of local authorities to flex their approach to self build and custom housing to meet local circumstances as evidenced by local self build registers .

Permissions in Principle and Local Registers of Land:

· We have serious concerns about t he proposed wide-ranging powers for the Secretary of State which have the potential to undermine localism, the plan-making system and the principles of sustainable development set out in the N ational P lanning P olicy F ramework .

More generally, and set out in more detail on the attached, we have concerns about the delegation of many critically important details to secondary legislation , and the cursory consideration given by the government to the financial impacts for local planning authorities of the proposed changes to the planning system.

We trust that our evidence is of value, and request your careful scrutiny and robust challenge of the Housing and Planning Bill.

Annex 1

Starter Homes (Clauses 1 – 7)

1.1 We support the Government’s aspirations to provide homes for those who currently struggle to get on the housing ladder. H owever we have serious concerns that in S urrey, and indeed more widely, the proposed provisions of the B ill in relation to starter homes will in fact undermine this goal.

1.2 In line with existing national policy, current Local P lan policies across Surrey seek the provision affordable housing as currently defined in national policy [1] as part of new development subject to development viability considerations.

1.3 T he additional requirement for discounted starter homes will reduce development viability such that new developments will be unable to support the provision of genuinely affordable housing, for which there is a clear and continuing need in Surrey [2] .

1.4 Our concerns in this regard are exacerbated by the failure to protect starter homes in perpetuity in the Bill . Without protec ti on in perpetuity , starter homes will only ever benefit a small number of households and are essentially an investment product for those who have sufficient access to funds / income to secure a starter home [3] .

1.5 T he consequent overall reduction in genuinely affordable housing products, secured in perpetuity, will severely disadvantage those in greatest housing need. Coupled with the introduction of Right to Buy , we predict the impact of this policy will be an increase in the number of residents on housing registers unable to find affordable homes and, ultimately, requiring temporary accommodation [4] . This will of course have considerable cost implications for local authorities [5] .

1.6 It is currently unclear to us how genuinely affordable housing for those in most need will be delivered (and funded) in the future, in the light of the extreme financial pressures currently faced by registered providers and local authorities, and we would urge further serious consideration of this matter.

1.7 Whilst the Government's Housing and Planning Bill Impact Assessment recognises the potential for reduction in provision of affordable housing (at para 1.1.16) it does not adequately address the impact on individuals, communities or councils of the proposed provisions in the B ill. The impact will not be overcome by provision for starter homes on underused brownfield sites, which can be brought forward for (more viable) market housing in any event.

1.8 The published Impact A ssessment also fails to recognis e the infrastructure and servicing implications of new starter homes. Starter homes, cumulatively, will create pressure on infrastructure and a need for new services. Without provisions to prot ect starter homes in perpetuity there is no policy justification for excluding them from the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) [6] .

1.9 O ur other concerns in re lation to Clauses 1-7 of the B ill include:

a) That t he discount threshold on starter homes will result in developers providing smaller (1-2 bed) units, to maximise their profits. This will also disadvantage a large part of the demographic in need of cheaper housing – that is, young and growing families . It may also result in starter homes being provided to a lower quality or de sign standard, in conflict with the great importance placed on design within the N ational P lanning P olicy F ramework (NPPF) [7] .

b) That t he age limit imposed in relation to starter home s is simplistic and u njustified, and will discriminate against those who may be seeking to purchase their first home later in life, or where one member of the household is above the qualifying age [8] . In addition, Surrey authorities have previously asked Government how the proposed age limit will be enforced, a question that has not clearly yet been answered.

1.10 Our r ecommendations:

a) A mend Clause 2 to require that starter homes are protected in perpetuity , or, if this is not done, to remove the exemption of starter homes fro m CIL ;

b) A mend Clause 2 to introduce flexibility i n relation to the age threshold;

c) I nclude safeguards in relation to the quality of, and design standards for, starter homes.

2. Self Build and Custom Housebuilding (Clauses 8-11)

2.1 The Self Build and Custom Housebuilding Act 2015 has already introduced a requirement on local authorities to maintain a register of individuals and groups who are seeking to self build in its area.

2.2 We support the view of the Local Government Association that a new legislative duty on Councils to grant sufficient development permissions on serviced plots of land to meet the demand for self build and custom housebuilding in their area (as evidenced by the authority’s self build register) is unnecessary and inflexible.

2.3 The NPPF already requires local planning authorities to plan locally for a mix of housing to reflect local demand [9] , but – appropriately - allows for a degree of flexibility about how local authorities do that, reflecting local circumstances.

2.4 Authorities in Surrey are exploring a number of different mechanisms to deliver self build. Particular models, to meet specific locally identified needs, may be brought forward in different ways and over different time periods, for example through planning applications or through the plan making system via development management policies or site allocations.

2.5 The proposals in the Bill undermine the flexibility of planning authorities to reflect local circumstances and local demand in their approach to self build and custom housebuilding. Given the development pressures, and environmental and policy constraints in areas such as Surrey, we are not convinced that the provisions will increase or frontload the supply of land for housing.

2.6 Finally, we do not consider sufficient consideration has been given to the wider implications of this policy. If serviced plots are to be secured from private developers this is likely to reduce development viability and further erode the ability of local authorities to secure affordable housing from development sites. If serviced plots are to be provided on local authority owned land, this firstly limits the opportunities available to Councils to provide genuinely affordable housing and secondly is likely to have financial implications for those Councils. We therefore urge consideration of financial incentives to facilitate delivery of serviced self build plots to ensure that these are not provided at the expense of other local authority priorities.

2.7 Our recommendations:

a) Amend Clause 9 to remove the proposed duty on local planning authorities to grant sufficient permissions on serviced plots to meet the demand identified in registers within a specified period.

3. Permissions in Princi ple and Local Registers of Land (Clauses 102 and 103)

3.1 The provisions at C lauses 102 and 103 in the Bill extend considerably previously announced proposals in relation to permissions in principle (PiPs) on brownfield land.

3.2 Whilst we note the Government's intention to only use these powers 'initially' in relation to brownfield land, it is our serious concern that these provisions (without a considerable tightening of the Bill wording) may herald a major shift of power away from local communities in relation to decision making on development decisions that may affect them. Such centralisation of powers is inherently contrary to the principles of localism.

3.3 Working with local communities on a day-to- day basis as we do, it is clear that the discretion inherent in the existing system, and the ability for local decision makers to balance competing priorities and considerations in determining planning applications to deliver sustainable development, is valued.

3.4 S imilarly, Local Plans provide a clear and well established mechanism for testing and allocating development sites, which the granting of permission in principle on sites within untested local land registers (brownfield or otherwise) undermines.

3.5 The current p lan-making process was not established to facilitate ‘zonal planning’. The proposed approach to PiPs– introduced in this manner and without a wider review of the planning system - undermines the fundamental principles (set out in the NPPF [10] ) that evidence based local assessments of what constitutes sustainable development should inform development plan making and decision making.

3.6 The ambition to 'simplify' the planning regime in this way will have a negative impact on the overall sustainability of communities. At the very least (on the basis of Government's 'initial' proposals), in conjunction with recent changes to permitted development rights, it prioritises the delivery of housing at the expense of employment sites/uses and local places for people to work [11] .

3.7 At most , and taken alongside the proposed increased powers for the Secretary of State to intervene in the Local Plan making process (Clauses 96-99) , it undermines localism and the delivery of sustainable development and as such will result in considerable local confusion and opposition.

3.8 Our r ecommendations :

a) That the provisions in the Bill in relation to permissions in principle (Clause 102) and local registers of land (Clause 103) are considerably narrowed and tightened to focus on small, urban brownfield sites .

b) That the status of registers of land (Clause 103) (in relation to, for example, local plans) is clarified.

c) That a ny provisions make it clear that local plan making sits at the heart of the PiP process, and that PiPs should not be brought into force without an up to date Local Plan.

4. Delegation to secondary legislation

4.1 We have great concerns about the proposed transfer of significant powers to the Secretary of State with many critically important details delegated to secondary legislation. these include (but are not limited to):

a) Restrictions on the sale and let ting on starter homes ;

b) Detail in relation to securing provision of starter homes through the grant of planning permission;

c) The scope of development orders granting PiP (for example, the type, scale or location of development);

d) The scope /content of local registers of land.

4.2 Without clarity in relation to these things, it is impossible to fully understand or assess the impact of the proposals within the Bill for local economies, communities or the environment .

4.3 Implementing our recommendations above will help provide certainty in relation to these important aspects at an early stage.

December 2015

[1] Social rented, affordable rented and intermediate housing provided in perpetuity

[2] The average number of people on housing registers within Surrey over the past 5 years is in excess of 20,000 per year (CLG).

[3] We estimate earnings of around £58,000 would be required, considerably higher than the average wage even in Surrey (which is one of the higher earning counties) of around £28,000 per year (CLG)

[4] Currently in excess of 500 applications (from individuals and/or families) are accepted by Surrey authorities as unintentionally homeless and in priority need each year (CLG).

[5] Homeless Link estimate that each homeless person costs the public purse £26,000 per year

[6] Work being carried out for Surrey local authorities suggests an infrastructure funding gap in excess in £3.5bn across the County between 2015 and 2030.

[7] Paragraph 17 and section 7.

[8] The average age of a first time buyer is 36 (Moneysupermarket 2014). This suggests that a considerable number of first time buyers (particularly in areas of high market demand) are over the proposed age threshold.

[9] Paragraph 50

[10] Paragraph 10

[11] Whilst falling outwith the scope of this call for evidence, we would like to also highlight our concerns about the recent permanent introduction of permitted development rights allowing change of use from office uses to residential, which is already having a negative impact on sources of affordable office accommodation across many Surrey towns.

Prepared 10th December 2015