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Social Housing Speed Read – planning aspects of the Housing White Paper

The Government wants to change the way that house building is planned, and we are taking a closer look at these proposals.

Chapter One of the Housing White Paper, entitled “Planning for the right homes in the right places” sets out the planning rules which currently limit the number of homes being built, and makes proposals to simplify planning, free up land for house-building and involve local communities in the planning process; and prevent perceived development blocking by local authorities.

Why is the house planning process in need of reform?

Too few areas of the country are benefitting from having an up-to-date Local Plan, and the White Paper is critical of local planning authorities that either haven’t adopted a plan or, where they have produced plans, haven’t fully recognised and catered for the homes needed in that area.

The White Paper also recognises that arguments over the number of homes that a local authority plans to build, delay an already-costly and bureaucratic process.

Another critique of existing build plans is that they don’t always utilise as many different types of land as they could – more use of brownfield land for house building is needed, and it is suggested that local communities could help with the design of new housing schemes.

How does the White Paper propose to reform planning?

The broad and ambitious proposals are as follows:

  • Ensuring that the whole country has up-to-date plans that optimise development potential, and reflect what’s needed;
  • Making the planning process simpler and clearer;
  • Earmarking more land for home building, whilst protecting the Green Belt;
  • Building homes in greater density where possible, and ensuring that communities have their say in neighbourhood planning;
  • Taking control from local authorities who fail to produce plans to address housing need by making presumption in favour of sustainable development.

How have these proposals been received?

Whilst ambitious planning reforms could prove challenging, David Orr, Chief Executive of the National Housing Federation has stated that renewed use of brownfield land for housing “is not enough”, and that urgent, “honest conversations” need to be had about how the Green Belt is currently used.

The role of communities in planning has been recognised, however. Cllr Martin Tett, housing spokesman at the Local Government Association, has said that “communities must have faith that the planning system responds to their aspirations for their local area, rather than simply being driven by national targets.”

What will this mean for social housing providers?

Proposals for planning reform are designed to support the White Paper’s wider message that many new homes must be built if the “broken” housing market is ever to be “fixed”.

Whilst local planning authorities are responsible for making the plans, the Government also recognises that other stakeholders are integrally involved.

Breaking down the planning barriers for all developers will encourage social housing providers in their efforts to build many more affordable homes. Similarly, the social housing sector has been encouraged to “explore every avenue” to build new homes, and drive efficiency through mergers and partnerships.

Enterprising housing associations could, in partnership with local authorities, take advantage of the proposed amendments to the National Planning Policy Framework.

The proposals, designed to ensure a flexible approach to planning in local areas, could help to build the affordable homes suited to the communities that these associations serve.

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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