Housing and Planning Bill

Written evidence submitted by Mike Kiely, Chair of the Board, Planning Officers Society (HPB 57)

My views on the various planning related provisions in the Bill are as follows:

Starter Homes

1. It is recognised that government are keen to make market housing more affordable through Starter Homes, with a 20% reduction on the normal market price. However Government’s intention that this reduction will be locked in only for 5 years, is a significant flaw in the model.

2. After 5 years the (lucky) occupant can sell at open market value. There is a price cap of £450K in London (GLA area) and £250K elsewhere. This will mean that in London, homeowners who buy through this mechanism for £360K (20% discount on £450K) would get a £90K windfall after 5 years.

This represents a 5% annual return on capital invested, irrespective of any housing price inflation. It will be a significant challenge to avoid abuse of this provision as it would be one of the best investment products on the market.

3. The plan that these homes will not be subject to CIL or s106 provisions as a means of assisting their funding will mean that Councils will have even less funding to provide necessary infrastructure. Against the background of severely constrained public expenditure, this is a further significant problem with this model.

4. The measure as currently framed will have a severe impact on Local Planning Authorities’ ability to provide affordable housing to those in the most severe housing need. It is aimed at those who are trying to access housing in the open market. If the 5- year limit on the reduction is maintained it will have the impact of increasing house prices because it puts more purchase capital into the market as a result of the 25% windfall.

5. A model that keeps the 20% reduction in perpetuity and does not remove CIL or S106 payments should be pursued.

Self Build and Custom Build

6. POS recognises that this as a neglected housing sector, but even if Self Build and Custom Build expanded it will only ever be a relatively small contributor to overall housing numbers – around 2% maximum according to figures given by Brandon Lewis to this committee on Monday. These provisions place a considerable additional burden on local authorities to identify (via Local Plans) and grant sufficient permissions on serviced plots to meet the needs identified by those self/custom builders registered with Councils. POS questions whether this is the best use of scarce local authority resources.

7. It is therefore vital that the fees being introduced to cover costs provide for full cost recovery so this can be self-funding.

General Housing Provisions

8. Part 4 extends the right to buy to Housing Association tenants. These provisions are likely to increase the pressure on Councils to provide even more affordable housing as more social/affordable housing is lost to the sector. Given the challenges in providing affordable housing this seems very short-sighted

Neighbourhood Planning

9. The duty to assist Neighbourhood Forums in preparing their plans will place a burden on already overstretched and under resourced Local Planning Authorities. Although there is some financial support from DCLG at the moment to assist in deferring these additional costs, there is no certainty that this will continue so there is a risk that this could become a very significant financial burden for those Local Planning Authorities who enjoy high levels of neighbourhood planning activity in their areas. This can only impact adversely on the capacity of those councils to prepare Local Plans and keep them up to date.

Local Planning

10. This contains a raft of powers for the Secretary of State to ensure that Local Planning Authorities have Local Plans in place. Ultimately the Secretary of State will have the power to intervene and put a plan in place himself. Whilst it is understood that the Secretary of State does not want to use such a power and hopes that its threat is enough to bring, the relatively few, Local Planning Authorities who do not have a modern local plan published into line, the imposition of a plan on an area is unlikely to be an outcome that will have any positive benefits. The reasons why Local Planning Authorities do not have local plans in place are numerous and an approach that seeks to understand what the blockages are and seeks to resolve them is likely to be more beneficial in the long term.

London Mayor

11. It is vital that the Mayor’s power to put in place Local development Orders is with the agreement of the Borough, as it is understood is the intention.

Local Register and Permission in Principle

12. This is a significant change to the planning system and, whilst it contains additional duties/burdens, could be a beneficial change.

13. The brownfield register is an attempt to facilitate unlocking land to build new homes. DCLG are looking to make this as light a burden as possible by essentially using the existing SHLAA process that is carried out as part of Local Plan making to form the register. However the announcement talks about sites capable of "supporting 5 dwellings or more". This will significantly increase the burden because the NPPF only requires SHLAAs to "consider all sites and broad locations capable of delivering five or more dwellings … on sites of 0.25ha (or 500m2 of floor space) and above". The site has to be at least 0.25ha AND be capable of delivering five or more dwellings; 0.25ha is the minimum threshold – not 5 dwellings. In a heavily built-up area such as London this will add a significant number of sites to the SHLAA process. In my previous authority (Croydon) we calculated that a threshold of 5 units would add about 165 sites to the 129 greater than 0.25ha already identified in the SHLAA. Additional resources for this work are not envisaged so it would drain resources from other planning functions and likely result in boroughs being unable to maintain an up to date Local Plan. This threshold must be reconsidered and the one set out in NPPF should be followed.

14. The concept of permission in principle has its roots in the Lyons Housing Review where the cost of obtaining outline planning permissions was seen as a barrier to entry for small house builders. Government sees this sector as needing support to increase the supply of housing overall.

Small house builders have reduced over years in the face of dominance of the industry by the big national and regional house builders.

15. The problem with outline applications is that they result in a planning permission with conditions and it is the only chance the Local Planning Authority get to impose those conditions.

This drives the need to look into matters that may be subject to conditions and makes these applications more complex. Government have responded to Planning Officers Society and Local Government Association lobbying on this and adopted our suggested approach of separating the "decision in principle" from approving the details.

16. The devil will be in the detail, but the high level provisions that are contained in the Bill are on the right lines. This new concept (permission in principle) will automatically attach to sites on the Brownfield Register and can be granted on application to small sites (less than 10 units). The Planning Officers Society have additionally called for this new form of consent to not be restricted to small sites and be capable of being issued unilaterally (ie without an application) by Local Planning Authorities. This latter power would be a much more efficient form of Local Development Order, which is a complex and cumbersome process that has very little take up as a consequence.

17. We are also concerned that this is a provision that is just suitable for housing sites. Most sites are mixed use developments and this must be accommodated otherwise there could be severe unintended consequences of poor quality placemaking. Furthermore we see no reason why this provision cannot be used for other land uses where considered appropriate and desirable by the Local Planning Authority. It is also important that the Technical Details Consent is a full reserved matters application and not a truncated prior notification type procedure. Housing developments are at the heart of existing and new communities and it is vital that they exhibit the highest standards of design and sustainability.

Planning Performance

18. The requirement to set out in reports the financial benefits that a development would bring, even though they may not be a material planning consideration, is a surprising addition. This has come out of the blue and is a very odd and burdensome requirement. Section 70(2) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 already requires Local Planning Authorities to have regard to "… any local finance considerations, so far as material to the application ..." so it is hard to see why this has been introduced in the Bill and what government sees as its role or benefit or what problem it is seeking to address.

Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects

19. POS can see the sense in giving the Secretary of State the power to allow NSIPs to have an element of housing as an intrinsic part of a project. The "element of" is proposed to be constrained by a functional relationship test (eg the caretaker’s house or a mixed use commercial scheme) or a proximity test. The functional test is sensible, however the proximity test will be "on, next to or close to" the NSIP. It is not clear what government have in mind, as the suggested 500 dwelling limit could mean that a significant new settlement, which has no functional relationship to an infrastructure project, could be permitted merely because it is nearby. This part (the proximity test) is essentially housing through NSIPs which, if that is government’s intention, should be debated as a specific proposition rather than via this unsatisfactory fudge.

Compulsory Purchase

20. This proposes a wide range of changes that are the result of a consultation last year, which are broadly supported. However the changes just address problems with the current CPO regime and does not extend it to enable these powers to assist Local Planning Authorities who wish to be more pro-active in delivering stalled housing sites.

November 2015

Prepared 17th November 2015