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Putting the house in order - Housing and the 2017 manifestos

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Summary: With all three major parties’ manifestos issued, we look at some of the potential implications for planning and compulsory purchase of what was said, and what was left unsaid in the lead up to the General Election on 8 June 2017.

Homes: more, bigger and much better

There is often a relatively broad degree of manifesto alignment between the major political parties on key issues facing the planning system, more homes, more money on infrastructure. Well, everyone is going to build more homes.

The Labour Manifesto even goes as far as to promise that “Labour will not only build more, we will build better”. But then, the Conservative Manifesto says that too. “Better houses, to match the quality of those we have inherited from previous generations”. Although possibly that’s a reference to a few more landed estates on the way, rather than the biggest council building programme for at least 30 years, which Labour promise.

Between the Conservative government and Labour Mayor of London, we have seen a considerable degree of alignment in aspects of the Housing White Paper and the draft Mayoral Affordable Housing and Viability SPG on tackling challenges to housing delivery. Both appeared to recognise market supply changes and institutional investment trends, encouraging diversification of the housing market through supporting build to rent models. The Labour Manifesto (though clearly not intended to perform the task of the Housing White paper) does appear to have retained a more stubborn focus on delivering homes for ownership (p.61).

The Conservative Manifesto whilst referencing the importance of high quality design, recognises of the need for much higher density of residential development than is currently the case. There is also recognition of the importance of supporting provision of infrastructure, parks, quality of space and design – and in this respect explicit reference to capturing the increase in land value created through building “to reinvest in local infrastructure, essential services and further housing”.

When referencing the capture of increase in land value, we have already seen in the draft Mayoral Affordable Housing and Viability SPG emphasis on establishing “appropriate benchmark land values” for the purposes of viability assessments and reviews. This may signpost that the current Government is taking the Labour Mayor’s SPG position on the establishment of market value and rigorous review mechanisms seriously, and considering wider reform.

Compulsory purchase

Other comments about market value can be found in the context of reforming Compulsory Purchase Orders, to make them easier and less expensive for councils to use by making it “easier to determine the true market value of sites”.

It is not this reference that has had CPO practitioners scratching their heads, but rather what was not said in the Manifesto, but appeared in the pre-Manifesto press commentary. This went further, suggesting an intention to “to reform compulsory purchase rules to allow councils to buy brownfield land and pocket sites more cheaply”. The commentary focussed on the acquiring authority being required to purchase land at “market value”, which includes the price with planning permission, irrespective of whether it has it or not.

This could be indicating a quite radical change to the compensation code in assessing what the true and actual loss of a landowner is. Is it looking at possibly excluding altogether the potential of a planning permission where one does not exist, or even removing the potential to apply for and obtain a CAAD in certain circumstances? It is unclear. But the focus is likely to be on housing CPOs, since the drive of the Housing White Paper sees a clear indication from Government that it is looking to act on stalled housing sites, through completion notices, and through CPOs. So this may indicate that where a CPO is made for housing purposes in relation to a stalled site (where there is considered to be no prospect of completion/delivery), a different approach to determining compensation might apply. Whilst we await further detail, these references could potentially be signposting dis-applying the valuation benefit of an existing planning permission (which would be controversial), or the prospect of obtaining planning permission, in circumstances where a housing site was not being delivered. Now that might be an incentive to build out.

The regions

What is abundantly clear is that the Brexit vote has sharpened political focus on the regions. All three parties recognise the importance of investment in UK infrastructure and, in particular, regional infrastructure, industry, and improved connectivity by rail and road. There is much alignment of aspiration in terms of increasing investment, creating and retaining greater benefits of development locally in regional cities and towns.

If well focussed investment is forthcoming, and measures hopefully extend beyond making “utility companies return roads to a condition no worse than when they started digging”, there is a real opportunity for focussed, strategic development and industrial growth off the back of current key national investments.

High Speed 2, Northern Powerhouse Rail and the expansion of airport capacity in the South East have broad support from both the Conservatives and Labour. The shared emphasis on regenerative regional development and improvement in supporting and connecting infrastructure is promising for towns and cities across Britain.

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