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Government publishes proposals for fixing ‘broken housing market’

  • United Kingdom
  • Real estate
  • Real estate planning

08-02-2017

On 7 February 2017 the Government published its much anticipated Housing White Paper. Whilst those in the industry welcome the recognition of the extent of the supply problem and the commitment to tackle the entire process from site finding to delivery, the range of proposals set out fall short of the transformational measures needed to properly address the housing crisis and, in some instances will create unnecessary pressures on those responsible for delivering more housing.

One of the central plan-making proposals is the introduction of a new methodology for assessing 5 year housing land supply, to be introduced from April 2018. The formulation of a standardised methodology is broadly welcomed as this should help to narrow arguments on supply calculations. However, the Government will merely “incentivise” councils to use the new approach and it will apply as the baseline only in the absence of an up-to-date plan. This appears to form a missed opportunity.

There are number of measures intended to assist with putting up-to-date plans in place. These include an amendment to the test of ‘soundness’, changes to the evidence base to make this more proportionate to the plan being examined and permitting spatial development strategies to allocate strategic sites in areas where devolution deals are in place. Whilst all of these proposals form a step in the right direction, the development industry requires reassurance that the Government will oversee an improvement in plan performance. A commitment is given to intervene in plan production “so that communities in the areas affected are not disadvantaged by unplanned growth” and to ensure that a local plan review occurs at least once every five years, however, little detail is given on how these arrangements will operate in practice.

In order to make enough land available in the right places, the Government intends to strengthen the NPPF commitment to previously developed land, promote higher density housing in urban locations and continue its support for new settlements including legislating for new town development corporations to be set up. In light of the need for radical reform, it is notable that the Government has shied away from an attempt to overhaul national policy on the Green Belt. It has highlighted the need for limited policy changes to identify circumstances where boundaries may be amended, but these are likely to make it harder to overcome Green Belt policy restraints. This forms one of the most notable shortcomings.

The Government holds the view that tackling delays in the delivery of planned new homes forms an equally significant issue to be addressed. It proposes to streamline planning condition discharge and simplify developer contributions and acknowledges the need to reform CIL, although fails to identify any CIL proposals. Much of the focus, however, is on the introduction of measures aimed at holding developers to account. These include the need for developers to provide more build out information, the ability of a local authority to consider the likelihood of a site being developed when deciding whether to grant planning permission, the possible reduction of the life of a planning permission from 3 to 2 years and the simplification of the process to withdraw planning permission where work has stopped and there is no prospect of completion. These appear to overstate the significance of the issues and the impact that the measures may achieve.

The various components of the White Paper proposals will be the subject of a number of consultation exercises, changes to national policy and primary and secondary legislation. A better appreciation will be formed of the likely success of these measures once this level of detail emerges. The initial reaction appears to be to welcome the measures to boost housing supply but to note that more could have been done to achieve the radical level of reform needed to deliver the required 1 million new homes in England by 2020.

Should you wish require any more detail of these measures or wish to discuss their implications for your proposals, please get in touch with your usual Eversheds Sutherland contact or:

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