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Housing White Paper a chance to reset planning politics

There's no quick fix for the planning system, but steps in the right direction would be welcomed. There's no quick fix for the planning system, but steps in the right direction would be welcomed. CPRE

shaunThere will be much to welcome in this month’s Housing White Paper. We expect a big emphasis on brownfield development and more support to enable local authority planning departments to do their job. Best of all, the White Paper looks set to address the main cause of the housing shortage: over-dependence on a small number of big companies to deliver the new homes the country needs.

For too long the state’s responsibility for decent housing has been outsourced to private developers who have neither the will nor capacity to build on the scale needed. Now at last Ministers seem willing to tackle this market failure, for instance by helping small builders and promoting custom build and ‘modern methods of construction’.

No quick fix

But we should not expect to see any quick increase in output. The Government is stuck with a policy of setting housing targets and making more land available in the hope that developers increase their output. This approach has failed for years and it will continue to fail. Under the current system, councils are pressured to set unachievably high housing targets and to demonstrate that they have a five-year supply of land to meet them.

Targets are missed because developers do not use the planning permissions they have; the local authority has to release more land; developers cherry pick the best sites, often in the Green Belt or other countryside, but build so slowly that the local authority is unable to demonstrate that it has a five year land supply; this then leaves the door open for predatory firms to put in speculative applications in the countryside on the grounds that the council does not have a valid plan in place.

Many villages and small towns across England face multiple applications for new estates on their edges; many face a doubling in size within a few years. And there are a growing number of proposals to build in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the Green Belt.

But still too few homes, particularly affordable homes, are built across the country as a whole.

A chance to move forward

The White Paper offers the Government a chance to reset planning politics, to get more homes built while fulfilling its manifesto commitments to protect the countryside. To do so it must carry people with it and work with local communities rather than imposing solutions on them. It is much easier to get houses built if they are supported locally.

Housing targets should be based on realistic population projections and the number of homes that actually can be built. Local plans should also include support for necessary infrastructure, an emphasis on good design, and support for the homes that are needed most: genuinely affordable homes, including social housing.

Previous governments of all parties have both built houses and safeguarded the countryside. The Housing White Paper gives Ministers the chance to ensure that this will also be their legacy.

This post was adapted from a post on Shaun Spiers’ CPRE Viewpoint blog.

Find out more

Housing White Paper: tackling housing crisis needs realistic housing targets

Landowners can help solve the rural housing crisis

Still too few homes, particularly affordable homes, are built across the country.

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