The Government got 2017 off to a start with two major policy announcements regarding garden towns and villages and Starter Homes. But as we highlighted earlier this month ('Why we need the Housing White Paper now'), more detail is essential.
A much-anticipated Housing White Paper is expected this month and will hopefully give the detail that will allow great ambition to begin to become reality. But what would we hope to see in the White Paper?
The starting point is to get more housing land delivered more quickly in or connected to markets where housing need is greatest and housing affordability is constraining productivity.
There is a requirement for stronger guidance for local planning authorities on how to measure their housing need – the Local Plan Expert Group recommendations on this point go a long way towards achieving this, despite some issues in the detail. These recommendations should be accepted and taken forward, subject to refining the detail to give an aggregated local measure of need that gets us to the total 300,000 homes per annum we estimate England now needs.
More strategic planning across economic areas is urgently needed, strengthening the duty to cooperate between planning authorities. The devolution agenda is achieving this in places (with, for instance, the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework having reached draft stage), but the pace of implementation needs to be accelerated via more incentives, building on the City Deals.
Within this, there is a desperate requirement for better spatial planning to align the development of homes and workspace with new road, rail and other transport investment. The National Infrastructure Commission is doing good work here, as are bodies such as Transport for London, but the thinking needs to be more embedded in the way that central and local government works. This is key to building successful and sustainable communities.
There needs to be an awareness of what is required for faster private sector-led delivery, which has been the mainstay of recent increases in the number of new homes being built. Much attention focuses on the potential for large sites to deliver large numbers of homes. In reality, these can be built out quickly in strong markets, where the site is well connected to employment, but they can struggle in weaker markets. The planning system needs to be much more aware of the capacity for large sites to be built out quickly in these locations, while not confusing slower build out rates in weaker markets with land banking.
On these larger, well-connected sites in stronger markets, Build to Rent is a real accelerator of housing delivery, which can really speed up the number of homes built without displacing housing built for sale, and the associated affordable housing it helps fund. Planning guidance needs to recognise this additionality more explicitly and encourage such multi-tenure delivery. Smaller sites work in all markets and there should be more of these coming forward.
A mix of tenure
We need as wide a range of tenure as possible to accelerate rates of sale, letting and delivery. The recent Homes and Communities Agency prospectus addendum suggests that the Autumn Statement announcement on tenure flexibility in the affordable homes programme, with more affordable rented homes rather than for sale, may be limited. There may well be need for this tenure flexibility to be reviewed if the pace of the programme delivery falls behind.
Public land release
The Government has a real opportunity to add to delivery volumes via its Accelerated Construction Scheme, as long as it accelerates land release in the right places, where it does not simply displace nearby private sector land release, so that more homes can be built. This will be done most readily in new or standalone settlements in or near to strong markets.
Indications are that the White Paper will be published later this month. It can’t come a day too soon.