Planning Reforms: what do they mean?

Last week Prime Minister Theresa May announced that she will be looking to introduce changes to planning processes in order for developers and councils to build more homes as the housing crisis continues to be a key point of national discussion.

Planning Reforms: what do they mean?

Local authorities and developers remain keen to insist that they are not to blame for the crisis, with many being accused of hoarding land but failing to develop it or of being too slow to approve plans or denying them altogether.

The proposals include a total overhaul of the national planning policy framework which govern the rules around the building of homes in England, admitting that a shortage of homes for those looking to get on to the property ladder was “reinforcing inequality”. She went as far as to say that young people were “right to be angry” about the current housing situation.

That’s all well and good but what is the government actually proposing to do? And is it, more importantly, likely to work?

They key areas of the proposals include the creation of a possible five newly created towns near Oxford and Cambridge to create what some have called a ‘Silicon Corridor’, in competition with California’s ‘Silicon Valley’ which hosts blue chip companies such as Facebook, Twitter and Apple. There is also a proposal to look at supporting transport infrastructure between the two cities. This could include an expressway and enhanced rail services.

Putting themselves potentially on a collision course with local authorities there are also proposals to limit the decision making of councils that they deem to be continually failing to build adequate homes. This would also include an introduction of minimum housing targets for each area and would see aggressive enforcement depending on the delivery of those homes.

According to the government’s own research up to fifteen councils have failed to complete their Local Development Plans and subsequently are at risk of being placed in special measures with the government actually stepping in to intervene with operational activities.

In certain ‘priority’ industries, there will be a focus on providing affordable housing in areas where those skills are required. For example, if there are a number of car manufacturers in a concentrated area such as the North East, the local authority would be compelled to ensure the building of affordable accommodation for those workers.

The government would see to continue to protect Green Belt sites and would encourage developers to ‘build upwards’ in cities, with a focus on expanding existing infrastructure, which could mean good news for property investors with government subsidies offered in order to maximise space which has proved popular with tenants and workers.

The government has further said it will operate a ‘use it or lose it’ policy for developers who hoard land but don’t build on it, setting time limits for developers to start work on land before having it confiscated by the state.

Critics of the proposals have said that the measures don’t go as far as they should, as the government won’t allow developers to access protected land around cities which are ripe for development and which would be cheaper to build on than existing sites. Further to this, critics have said that the government should provide councils with greater ability to borrow money to build social housing in order to provide low income families with opportunity.

“We’re making sure councils do all they can to find sites, grant planning permissions and build homes,” said Mrs May, in what was seen as a warning to councils considered to be failing to allow adequate housebuilding. “That includes creating a nationwide standard that shows how many homes [local] authorities need to plan for in their area, making the system fairer and more transparent.”

Cities across the UK are leading the charge in building new homes, with apartment buildings and off-plan developments going up quickly and offering plenty of affordable housing to workers in city centres whilst offering investors and developers ample opportunity to fill those gaps in high-demand areas.

Yields, capital gains and rent growth across cities like Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds have been proof of the success of allowing private investment to drive house building in those areas and the government have been urged to widen this ability to drive house building.

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