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Whitehall to overrule councils that fail to deliver housebuilding plans

Councils must create and deliver local plans for housebuilding in their area by 2017 or the government will do so for them, prime minister David Cameron has made “crystal clear” today (12 October).

Government figures show only 65% of councils have “fully adopted” their published local plans, while 20% have not delivered an updated plan at all.

Ministers will “shortly” bring forward more details of how to “best intervene” when councils fail to produce their own plans, but the government has already said it will publish tables setting out councils’ progress on providing a suitable plan. It has also recently created a housebuilding panel to help accelerate the delivery of new homes locally.

The proposals were unveiled just days after an agreement between the communities secretary and the Housing Association to extend Right to Buy to tenants from next year – and ahead of the Housing Bill, drafted to secure one million homes by 2020.

The Bill will also include a new legal duty on councils to guarantee the delivery of starter homes on all “reasonably sized” development sites, as well as promote the scheme to local first-time buyers.

Cameron said: “My government will do everything it can to help people buy a place of their own – at the heart of this is our ambition to build one million new homes by 2020.

“Many areas are doing this already – and this is great – but we need a national crusade to get homes built and everyone must play their part.

“Councils have a key role to play in this by drawing up their local plans for new homes by 2017. But if they fail to act, we’ll work with local people to produce a plan for them.”

He also announced today that local authorities will be able to bid for a slice of a £10m ‘starter homes fund’ as part of a £36m grant to accelerate the delivery of these houses. The grant hopes to help councils prepare brownfield sites that would otherwise not be used for starter homes.

Part of the Bill also includes automatic planning permission “in principle” on brownfield sites to build as many homes as possible, “while protecting the green belt”.

And from today, councils will have a new duty to allocate land to those who want to build their own home in order to support small builders.

High-value vacant assets will also be sold off to be reinvested in new affordable homes.

The move also comes just days after Cameron promised to scrap planning rules that require property developers to build affordable homes for rent during his speech at the Conservative conference. The pledge was created to increase the amount of homes for first-time buyers in an effort to shift from ‘generation rent’ to ‘generation buy’.

Communities secretary Greg Clark MP said: “During the last five years, we’ve brought housebuilding back from the brink, from its lowest levels since the 1920s, by reforming the planning system so we now have over 240,000 homes receiving permission.

“To maintain that momentum we all need to play our part and I’m determined to ensure that local as well as central government take the steps needed to deliver the homes this country needs.”

To top off the series of the housebuilding reforms announced today, Cameron also pledged to make a 2013 temporary rule that allows people to convert disused offices into homes without a planning permission into a “permanent change”. It hopes to build on the “almost 4,000 conversions” between April 2014 and June of this year.

The government has also launched a new website for prospective homeowners to see what schemes are available for them.


Stewart Baseley, executive chairman of the Home Builders Federation, said: “Having plans in place provides certainty for both local communities and builders such that all parties understand what is to be build where and can work together to better deliver the type of developments that local people want.

“Ensuring local authorities abide by their responsibilities and put a robust plan in place will ensure more homes get built more quickly via a more constructive, less bureaucratic process.”

And Jeremy Blackburn, head of policy and parliamentary affairs at the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, claimed that enforcing plans was important to accelerate the delivery on brownfield sites – often “locked up for too long”.

But he said: “While these new measures build on the National Planning Policy Framework and are welcome, the system needs to really pick up speed in order to deliver the vibrant property sector on which the success of our economy depends.”

Other figureheads praised the Bill, with the Melanie Leech, chief executive of the British Property Federation dubbing it “one of the most important Bills before Parliament”.

“In particular, we are pleased to see the extension of the office to residential permitted development rights, and valid exemptions to this,” Leech said.

And Jeff Fairburn, CEO of Persimmon Homes, said he hopes devolution would speed up the local planning process in urban areas “where much of the need is focused”.

He added that it is important to bring brownfield sites forward but “accept that they cannot alone meet the country’s housing needs”, which is why their capacity must be recorded and the planning approval process must be simplified.

“We must explore the different types and tenures of housing that can be delivered and work hard give everyone the chance to own their own home. The initiatives under the Bill are welcomed and particularly the drive towards ensuring an increase in the number of starter homes via changes to the definition of affordable housing,” Fairburn added.

But the LGA voiced concerns regarding the new measures, claiming that a "blanket national policy" is not the answer for the "crucial" need that residents have a say on local developments.

Cllr Peter Box, its housing spokesman, said: "The planning system is not a barrier to development and councils are making good progress with getting complex and detailed local plans in place.

"Councils are part of the solution in tackling our housing crisis and we urge the government to give them more powerful means to do so, for example stronger compulsory order powers to take on sites stuck in the system and powers to make sure developers prioritise brownfield sites."

He also spoke out against making the office conversion temporary rule into a "permanent change".

"We have concerns that the government has decided to permanently allow developers to convert offices into homes without the need for planning permission. This temporary policy was designed to provide a new lease of life to empty offices but some councils have reported some existing businesses being evicted so landlords can cash in on higher residential rates and sale prices.

"Not only has this led to less of some of the office space needed for economic growth it has, in some cases, seen it replaced with homes which do not meet community needs and remain unaffordable," Box said.


Councils already have to operate under the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), introduced in 2013 as a way to cut back on red tape and planning documents.

They are required to produce an annual trajectory of how many homes they plan to build in their area, usually over a 15-year period. These plans are reviewed “regularly” – usually every five years – and aim to give local people “more of a say” on new developments, according to the government.

Whitehall is adamant that the NPPF works, as it claims the average number of homes planned by councils has soared from 573 per year in 2012 to 717 now.

(Top image c. Jonathan Brady/PA Wire)


Robert Jenkins   12/10/2015 at 14:40

It is time to put an end to Councils who are still doggedly maintaining a culture of refusal towards self-build, especially the small affordable elderly-disabled-friendly bungalows which cause no 'harm' whatsoever to local environments. Planning Officers believe their 'refusal tally' provides them with 'brownie points and rely on spuriously interpreted, meaningless phrases, repeated parrot-fashion at every refusal opportunity to aid their upgrading. Too often incorrect reports are used to influence newly elected, untrained Councillors. How often do we hear the stupid phrase 'isolated' when the proposal for a single elderly-friendly bungalow is considered within a settlement; or the term 'in open countryside', surrounded by houses, farms, and sewage works etc? Planning Officers wax lyrical when a development of sixty unsustainable houses/ticky tacky boxes on a landfill site, isolated and outside a settlement boundary in open country side, (probably because of local political back massaging. How many Councillors nationally have been filling their boots in development plans? Who would be brave enough to conduct a survey? The reason why the housing shortage exists is because of the historic culture of refusal where any ordinary folk had the audacity to seek planning consent. The government must get these Councils by the scruff of the neck and establish a privatised planning authority before it is too late. They are beginning to believe their own propaganda.

Elderly Ann   12/10/2015 at 14:53

The reason why the housing shortage exists is because it is left to the market to decide what, where and when they are built. If local councils were allowed to do what they did post-war, we wouldn't be so short. Where I live, the popular alternative choice is simply to demolish houses and bungalows and build big new houses, so older people are locked into family homes without downsizing choices, and high value houses are snapped up for rental. Local builders aren't building smaller, more affordable homes - why would they?

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