What does the Budget mean for Planning, the Housing Crisis and the West Midlands?

Stuart Tym - The Wilkes Partnership Solicitors, Birmingham, Solihull

In this article Head of Planning at The Wilkes Partnership Stuart Tym reacts to the recent Budget announcement and assesses the impact it will have on the world of planning in the Midlands and further afield.

The Budget starts boldly by stating – “The government is determined to fix the broken housing market, and restore the dream of home ownership for a new generation.”

The Government is under the impression that the only sustainable way of making housing more affordable in the long term is to build more homes in the right places.  I have given the view before that the problem is more complex than this, says Stuart.

The Budget targets 300,000 new houses per year (already overtaking that which would be calculated through the standardised OAN formula),

Through:

• Making available £15.3 billion of new financial support for housing over the next five years, bringing total support for housing to at least £44 billion over this period.

 Introducing planning reforms that will ensure more land is available for housing, and that better use is made of underused land in our cities and towns.

• Providing £204 million of funding for innovation and skills in the construction sector, including to train a workforce to build new homes.

A commitment to consult on further planning policy changes as follows (will this link to a revised draft NPPF still promised for Spring 2018?)

• Strengthening policy to be clear that allocated land should be taken out of a plan if there is no prospect of a planning application being made. The question immediately is raised as to how it got in there in the first place with absolutely no chance of being developed and who makes this arbitrary decision and on what basis?

• A new policy whereby local authorities will be expected to grant permission on land outside their plan on the condition that a high proportion of the homes are offered for discounted sale for first‑time buyers, or for affordable rent. This will exclude land in the Green Belt. Stuart states -“This is much like the current exceptions policies for Affordable Housing but includes an element of a push for the much lauded Starter Homes”.

• Minimum densities for housing development in city centres and around transport hubs.

• Greater support for the use of compulsory purchase powers for site assembly.

• Policy changes to support the conversion of empty space above high street shops.

• Policy changes to make it easier to convert retail and employment land into housing. Stuart comments – “Can we solve the housing crisis without fully taking into account the infrastructure required to live?”

• Permitted development right to allow commercial buildings to be demolished and replaced with homes. Stuart comments – “Given the numerous changes to PD (discussed at our recent Planning Seminar) few, if any of which, permit building works to be undertaken this could be a major change. Will it see LPA’s rushing back to make further Article 4 directions?

• Speeding up the development process by removing the exemptions from the deemed discharge rules. This will get builders on site more quickly, ensuring that development is not held back by delays in discharging planning conditions. Again, on balance, this does not help already stretched LPA’s and may lead to inappropriate development if it is seen that a “check and balance” in the system is removed.

DCLG has begun the formal process of considering intervention in 15 areas where the local authority has failed to put an up‑to‑date plan in place. The government will shortly activate powers that will enable it to direct local planning authorities to produce joint statutory plans and undertake an assessment of where they should be used.

The government will set up a review panel, chaired by Sir Oliver Letwin, to explain the significant gap between housing completions and the amount of land allocated or permissioned, and make recommendations for closing it. The review will provide an interim report in time for Spring Statement 2018 and a full report at Budget 2018.

 

Stuart comments – “This could see some form of conclusions to the ongoing land banking accusation which politicians revisit so popularly.”

A further promise to the long awaited response to the CIL Review.  DCLG will launch a consultation with detailed proposals on the following measures:

• Removing restriction of Section 106 pooling towards a single piece of infrastructure where the local authority has adopted CIL, in certain circumstances such as where the authority is in a low viability area or where significant development is planned on several large strategic sites.

• Speeding up the process of setting and revising CIL to make it easier to respond to changes to the market. This will include allowing a more proportionate approach than the requirement for two stages of consultation and providing greater clarity on the appropriate evidence base.

• Changing indexation of CIL rates to house price inflation, rather than build costs.

• Giving Combined Authorities and planning joint committees with statutory plan-making functions the option to levy a Strategic Infrastructure Tariff (SIT) in future.

Stuart Comments – “This is a real indication of what the government are following from the CIL Review.  SIT is taken up but there is no mention of Local Infrastructure Tariffs by name, unless the practical effect of the removal of the pooling restriction is to allow s.106’s back into the fore as was suggested by the CIL Review, in the same way”.

Midlands Engine

The government has agreed a second devolution deal in principle with the West Midlands Mayor and Combined Authority to address local productivity barriers. This includes £6 million for a housing delivery taskforce, £5 million for a construction skills training scheme and a £250 million allocation from the Transforming Cities fund to be spent on local intra-city transport priorities. 

Other

The government is also raising the price at which a property becomes liable for SDLT to £300,000 for first‑time buyers to help young people buy their first home.

The government will create a GovTech Catalyst, a small central unit based in the Government Digital Service that will give businesses and innovators a clear access point to government. This is put forward as another way of streamlining the planning performance of LPA’s.

There is certainly going to be plenty more to be revealed as a result of the promised consultation, we will be sure to keep you up-to-date.

To find out how The Wilkes Partnership can help with a full range of planning issues contact Stuart Tym on stym@wilkes.co.uk or call 0121 710 5891.

You can also stay informed of key planning news and events by following Stuart’s dedicated Planning Twitter feed @planninglawbrum.