Viewpoint: Housing White Paper



A reduction in the number of homes being built over the last 10 years combined with an aging and growing population means there is a mismatch in supply and demand in the housing market; this has caused prices to rise to levels which are unaffordable for many.

In response, the Government has set itself an ambitious target of building one million new homes by 2020. The Housing White Paper issued today is a direct response to this aspiration and sets out a range of reforms to the housing and planning system to enable the construction of these homes.

The Housing White Paper was due to be published towards the end of last year, however, it is understood to have been delayed by the Prime Minister who wanted to know more details on how the ambitious accelerated house building schedule set out by Sajid Javid would work in practice. Fast forward to 7 February 2017, Javid addressed parliament and issued the Housing White Paper; which sets out a number of proposed changes to accelerate the delivery of new homes. In combination with other tools at his disposal, today’s announcement will see the first amendments made to the NPPF since it was first published in 2012.

For developers this includes:

  • Promoting the use of land more efficiently for development; the White Paper proposes to promote higher density in urban and accessible locations through alterations to the NPPF. This in practice may result in a turn away from mechanistically imposed density matrices in the assessment of housing proposal.
  • Reviewing the Minimum Space Standards to ensure flexibility in the delivery of housing choice and recognising there is not a ‘one size fits all approach’ to housing standards. The report cites Pocket Homes as an example of a high quality compact living approach to housing.
  • Tackling unnecessary delays caused by planning conditions which ensure that pre-commencement conditions can only be used with the agreement of the applicant.
  • Assisting in diversifying the house building market through providing incentives for small and medium size house builders to deliver new homes.

For Local Authorities this includes:

  • Making sure every part of the country has an up-to-date local plan; this will be achieved by drafting in powers for the Secretary of State to intervene and ensuring plans are reviewed every five years. Developers would therefore have more assurance on the validity of the Local Plan.
  • Making more land available for homes in the right places; the White Paper proposes amendments to the NPPF to indicate that greater weight should be attached to the value of using suitable brownfield land within settlements for homes.
  • On the face of it, the White Paper reiterates the Government’s commitment to maintaining the protection of the Green Belt. However, alterations are proposed to the NPPF to allow for Green Belt boundaries to be amended in exceptional circumstances in meeting their identified development requirements. How often ‘exceptional circumstances’ will be used in the release of Green Belt land is a discussion for another day.
  • Boosting planning department resources. This means increasing fees by 20%; with the potential of another 20% increase for authorities who meet their housing target. An increase in fee might not necessary be welcome by all, however, if accompanied by greater efficiency, it can only be regarded as a positive.
  • Watering down the requirement for 20% of new housing to be Starter Homes and replacing it with a general duty on councils to promote the supply of starter homes. The White Paper proposes alterations to the definition of affordable housing and amendments to the NPPF to require a minimum of 10% affordable housing on sites over 10 units.
  • Reviewing the often complex and complicated CIL regime and replacing it with a hybrid system of low level tariffs for all developments and Section 106 payments for majors. It remains to be seen how this will work in practice or whether it will simplify the process.
  • Controversially enabling local authorities to take into account the track record of delivery of an applicant when determining the application.

Overall, the White Paper sets out a number of alterations to incentivise and accelerate the delivery of new houses whilst making it progressively difficult to ‘land bank’ and use planning permissions as a tool to increase the value of a site where there is no intention of building out. The government’s White Paper is considered a positive for developers’ intent on building out their permissions; whilst only time will tell if the policy and legislative amendments are sufficient in boosting housing numbers.

By Richard Seaward