Interviewer: Vicky, parts of the Housing and Planning Act 2016 have already come in. What were the objectives?
Vicky: Very much about housing delivery so getting homes delivered faster. And some subjectives to that was identifying housing land quicker, easier for housebuilders to identify what sites are suitable for housing. But importantly doing that at a local level and getting local buy-in. There was also a speeding up of the planning process. And thirdly separate state interventions, so making those smarter and really ensuring that the plans that had been designed to deliver homes were in place.
And then the other objective was around home ownership and getting more people to own their own home.
Interviewer: And how did they go about achieving those objectives in this Act?
Vicky: Well the first way they achieve the objective is through a new planning in principle concept. So this is really a planning permission but effectively going back to what we used to see where literally a redline and agree the parameters so it’s the minimum and maximum of housing you would expect to see on that site and whether there are other uses that would be permitted to support that housing. So it’s not dissimilar to a local plan allocation but what you tend to see in local plans is it can be up to a number of units or it can be – it can leave it quite open – it might not have a specific number. So what you’re giving certainties to a housebuilder is that yes you will get housing on this site and yes you will get at least a certain number.
Interviewer: What will it mean for major developments then?
Vicky: In terms of major developments I think it can be useful in terms of if you’re dealing with a change of use so if it’s a current employment site and you want an in principle of housing. But otherwise I personally feel for major developments it’s very difficult. So first of all how do you get a permission in principle? So it can be through a local plan allocation but that local plan allocation has to be specific, it has to say this is a permission in principle So if you think about the current local plans, none of them will have that language. So you’re looking at local authorities going back and visiting their local plans which involves a lot of work. Secondly the permission in principle is not designed to have any [●] obligations or any planning conditions. So if you are dealing with a major development that involves an environmental impact assessment it makes it very difficult because how do you secure the mitigation measures you promised, how do you deal with your affordable housing? So I really can’t see it being of relevance to major housing schemes.
Interviewer: Vicky there are big changes about starter homes as well.
Vicky: That’s right. This is a new concept where the Act places a duty on local authorities to deliver starter homes. Now starter homes are new homes that are available to qualifying people. And that’s people between the age of 23 and 40 who have not owned their own home before. And they’re sold at a 20% discount on market value subject to a price cap. So actually that 20% might need to be bigger. So outside London it’s £250,000 and inside London it’s £450,000.
Interviewer: And why are those changes so significant?
Vicky: The current consultation on the regulations for starter homes, the Government suggesting that 20% of homes on developments will need to be starter homes. So that’s 1 in 5 units that need to be a starter home so sold at that 20% discount. And that’s significant in terms of affecting the bottom line. There is a real concern that traditional affordable housing will not be able to be brought forward because viability will not allow it to be or certainly not at the levels that certainly local authorities need it to be delivered. There’s actually real concern from housebuilders because actually that tradition of affordable housing provides cashflow, so you’re selling that to a registered provider up front and that’s cash in the bank. It’s not speculative; you know you’ve done the deal, you’ve got that cash in the bag.
Interviewer: And what other changes do you think are the most significant in this?
Vicky: The most significant other changes are in addition to promoting starter homes, local authorities have got to promote sites for custom build and self builds. So I think that’s interesting for major developments in terms of – I suppose major developments are really quite a mixed community and having these various plots. The other change is Secretary of State intervention. So the idea is that the Secretary of State can intervene very early on so actually when local authorities are not producing their plans the Secretary of State can intervene and get that moving. But also intervening in parts of the process so Birmingham City Council went through their local plan, relief planned in the green belt, all reviewed, all found to be sound and the local MP has put pressure on government and now government’s intervened and said you can’t do anything to that local plan and so we look at this and it creates a period of real uncertainty. You know while that plan is held in abeyance and there’s discussions behind the scenes and getting that plan in the place it needs to be.
Interviewer: And land around Hinckley Point was another case that was interesting.
Vicky: Yes it is interesting because the other change is the idea that development consent orders. So development consent orders have been used for infrastructure products. Nationally significant infrastructure projects such as nuclear power stations and the idea that you can include housing in those. So at the moment you can also use development consent orders for commercial developments, commercial and leisure developments but you can’t have any housing. But if it’s infrastructure related then you can have an element of housing subject to certain thresholds.
Interviewer: What next?
Vicky: Certainly by no means the end. We saw in the budget the Government’s talked about – is very concerned about the number of planning conditions that are placed on major schemes. Trying to impose less, having automatic discharge if councils don’t deal with them promptly etc.
There’s also pressure on new settlements and we saw this in the draft planning practice guidance and proposed changes. So I think the Government sees new settlements. So this isn’t about urban edge green belt release it is creating new settlements and are quite keen again to speed up the planning process, give those developments more support. So really it’s a case of watch this space.
Interviewer: Vicky, thank you.