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Social Housing Speed Read – building more homes

We look at the key policies outlined in the Housing White Paper aimed at enabling the UK to build more homes and, more importantly, at a faster rate than previous constraints have allowed.

We  also look at what effect these measures will have on the sector’s contribution to the Government’s goal of providing more houses at a faster rate.

Please click here for our previous Speed Read on the Housing White Paper.

What measures does the Housing White Paper propose?

Chapter Two of the Housing White Paper admittedly has a heavy planning focus. It introduces a whole raft of measures aimed at streamlining and unlocking the planning process by:

  • creating greater certainty for local planning authorities by introducing changes to the way in which land is assessed for housing supply;
  • boosting local planning authorities’ capacity for actually dealing with the volumes of applications, even offering them the option to increase their fees by 20% from June 2017, subject to a commitment from them to reinvest that proportion back into their planning department;
  • ensuring infrastructure plays an integral part of any development scheme;
  • reducing delays in the number of homes being built by ensuring timely utilities connections;
  • various measures aimed to help developers tackle arbitrary planning conditions, undue delays and licensing issues;
  • steps to address the skills shortage that could threaten the rollout of these measures; and
  • new rights for the Government to not only hold developers to account for their delay or failure to deliver but also local authorities.

It is not undesirable for the Government to introduce such an overhaul and have wide ranging powers to effectively force local authorities’ and developers’ hands if it will result in more housing.

However, a fine balance needs to be struck and these policies require the necessary ‘groundwork’ (excuse the pun) and an overall joined-up approach to be taken which at its very heart includes both planning and infrastructure reform.

What role does infrastructure have to play in the easing of the housing crisis?

Infrastructure is integral to the Government achieving its housing objectives, but it realistically confirms in the Housing White Paper that it must be ensured that ‘infrastructure is provided in the right place at the right time’.

Clearly these reforming measures will not work if new developments are not married with the required infrastructure to service its needs, otherwise yes we would have more housing but we would face increased pressure on the already stretched existing infrastructure.

In order to facilitate such a collaboration, the Government will open its doors to bids for the £2.3bn Housing Infrastructure Fund, which will make money available to successful applicants over the course of the next four years to a variety of projects. Ultimately priority will be given to those bids which will ‘unlock the most homes in the areas of greatest housing need’.

How can Social Housing Providers play their part?

Although the measures discussed above do not seemingly directly affect social housing providers, they will to some extent have an ancillary effect, not least because the Government is looking to providers to build more homes and thus help to reduce the gap between demand and delivery.

Therefore, any reform of the ‘planning process’ as a whole may well be viewed as a benefit to the sector.

Certainly sector commentators see these reforms reflecting positively on the sector as a whole with David Orr, Chief Executive of the National Housing Federation stating that the Housing White Paper points to a more “comprehensive and strategic framework to fix the housing crisis.”

Promisingly, the Government also recognises in the Housing White Paper that the sector is ‘more resilient than market house-building to changing housing market conditions’ and it can ‘also help kick start other house-building, as it can help make sites viable and bring in investment’.

Terrie Alafat, the Chief Executive of the Chartered Institute of Housing, confirmed that it is “pleasing to see the Government recognise the need for a broader range of organisations to build new homes, especially the crucial role of local authorities in delivering the housing we need – something we’ve consistently called for”. It is encouraging to see the acknowledgement of the vital role the sector has to play, even in house building, is being recognised.

The Housing Minister Gavin Barwell, when speaking to an audience of housing professionals in Newcastle last week answering questions on the White Paper, announced that he was also looking for “allies” within social housing, private developers and planning professionals to help the Government deliver the solutions.

He said that there would be no silver bullet to fix the broken housing market, but perhaps fifty or sixty changes to tackle existing problems. Exactly what these changes could entail and how the sector can fulfil its role will be looked at in further detail in next week’s supplement.

If you have any questions on the above and how it will affect social housing providers, or any other questions as a social housing provider, please do not hesitate to contact John Murray or a member of our expert Social Housing Team.

Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.

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