Q1: In the Explanatory Memorandum (EM) you state that: “A commitment to do this [the creation of new town development corporations which are accountable to the local authority] was made in the Housing White Paper published in February 2017”. Had MHCLG been approached by Local Authorities about this possibility before the 2017 White Paper? What approaches has MHCLG received since then?
A1: Prior to the publication of the Housing White Paper in February 2017, we had had informal, official level discussions with local authorities about interest in using these Regulations. However, we had not received any firm proposals for use. A number of the most ambitious current garden communities have informally expressed interest in creating a locally-led new town development corporation including North Essex Garden Communities (Colchester, Braintree and Tendring District Councils and Essex County Council), Basingstoke Garden Town (Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council and Hampshire County Council), St Cuthbert’s Garden Village (Carlisle City, Cumbria), and Otterpool Garden Town (Folkestone & Hythe District Council, Kent County Council).
The most advanced proposal is from North Essex Garden Communities who we expect to submit a formal proposal seeking designation in early 2019.
Q2: In the EM you say that MHCLG consulted on the draft regulations between 4 December 2017 and 2 January 2018. This is only 4 weeks, spanning the Christmas and New Year holidays. The Cabinet Office consultation principles flag up the issue of consultations over holidays. Why did MHCLG set such a tight timetable? Did any consultation respondents complain about the timetable?
A2: Prior to the consultation period MHCLG had already been in dialogue for some time with a number of key stakeholders. Due to the relatively niche subject matter, we understood that most of the key interested parties were already aware of, and engaged in the process and as such were able to respond quickly (including interested local authorities and key interest groups such as the Town and Country Planning Association).
We also decided not to use a longer consultation period partly due to concerns that a delayed laying date could risk the Regulations coming into competition with Brexit legislation and potentially delay them for a considerable time. In retrospect we probably could have allowed for a longer period but were advised at the time that later Parliamentary laying slots would be difficult to secure.
A total of 58 individuals and 17 local authorities responded to the consultation. We received 5 complaints about the short turnaround from individuals and one local authority stated that the timescales meant that they were unable to provide a considered response to some questions.
Q3: In the EM you say: “The Government will be publishing guidance on these Regulations, covering for example the circumstances in which government would expect, in response to a request from the local authority or authorities, to consult on the designation of an area for a new town and expectations on new town development corporations in relation to delivery.” The summary of consultation responses flags up the intention to publish guidance to resolve various issues. Is it not possible to publish the guidance in draft alongside the draft Regulations, in order to inform Parliamentary consideration? How soon will MHCLG publish guidance?
A3: We have been unable to publish the guidance alongside the draft regulations as we are still engaging with a number of stakeholders over the content. However, we intend to publish it prior to the Parliamentary debates.
Q4: In the EM you say: “The impact on the public sector may, in some cases, be significant. The creation of locally-led new town development corporations may result in additional costs for local authorities compared to other delivery vehicles for large scale housing development.” Will the financial implications act as a deterrent to local authorities? What assistance will the Government offer towards this impact?
A4: The use of a locally-led New Town Development Corporation by a local authority is a relatively interventionist approach to the delivery of a garden community and generally means that the local authority is willing to play more of a leadership role in the delivery of that community. Compared to a less interventionist route, such as not using a statutory delivery vehicle at all, and instead using something like a joint venture with a private sector partner, this will result in additional legal and corporate costs for the development corporation, and administrative costs for the oversight of the new body.
This may be a deterrent for some local authorities that do not consider such a route value for money. Due to these resource costs and the organisation involved in setting one up, we don’t expect them to be appropriate for smaller garden communities below c. 10-15,000 homes.
Through our garden cities, towns and villages programme the Government has to date provided £22 million of capacity funding, and direct expertise and advice. We will seek to offer financial support and advice, where appropriate, to local authorities where we consider that their proposals for a locally led New Town Development Corporation provide a robust route to delivering a new garden community. However, we are clear that any locally-led new town development corporations are just that, locally-led. They would be accountable to the local authorities that set them up and ultimately it is for those authorities to ensure they have the resources necessary to do the job.
7 June 2018