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White paper tiger?

Posted on 28 February 2017

White paper tiger?

The government’s housing white paper tells us in no uncertain terms that our housing market is broken and that the cause is very simple: for too long, we haven’t built enough homes. 

The government believes that to solve this problem we need to plan for the right homes in the right places, build homes faster, and diversify the construction industry. Delivering this requires a commitment from a wide range of stakeholders including local authorities, private developers, and lenders. None of this is new, but the government perhaps makes it clearer that there will be repercussions if local authorities and developers do not pull their weight. Much has been said already about the White Paper and disappointment expressed as to its ambition. Are these repercussions enough to give the White Paper teeth?

In relation to developers, the government intends to amend national policy to encourage authorities to consider how realistic it is that a site will be developed when deciding whether to grant planning permission. Thus a developer could be penalised for a poor track record of not implementing previous permissions, or implementing them but not building out. The government is also proposing to (1) simplify and speed up the completion notice process so that where development on a site has stopped with no prospect of completion in a reasonable timeframe, the authority can withdraw planning permission for the remainder of the site, and (2) issue new guidance to authorities to encourage them to use their compulsory purchase powers to acquire land on which development has stalled. The land could then be auctioned to another developer.

These sanctions will have greater impact if the government goes ahead with its proposal to amend national policy to encourage local authorities to shorten the timescales for developers to implement a planning permission from three to two years – provided the authorities have the willingness to use this new power.

Local authorities are also presented with consequences. The existing rules on relaxing policy where no projected five year housing supply can be demonstrated are to be supplemented by sanctions based on historic performance. This includes introducing a new housing delivery test and applying the national presumption in favour of sustainable development where delivery falls below certain thresholds, which could lead to a loss of control over where new housing is built.   

Unfortunately, delays in publishing the White Paper meant it missed the very well attended and received planning seminar hosted by Mishcon de Reya’s planning team in January. Look out for another seminar later in the year.

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