For the first time in living memory we approach a general election with housing, the availability of homes and housing affordability at the top of the political agenda. This is in equal part a response from the political classes to the concerns of their constituents and also a recognition of the potential economic and social consequences of failing to tackle a growing crisis.
Faced with these pressures there may be a temptation for a new government to initiate a range of dramatic policy measures to demonstrate a discernible change of direction. To an extent this tendency is part of the political DNA, but the house building recovery is delicately poised with a long way to go and after the turmoil of the recession followed by a major overhaul of the planning system, a period of relative stability would be favourable. Therefore, on day one, a confirmation that no radical macro reforms will be pursued could allow the house building industry to continue the progress achieved and help to restore housing delivery figures back to the levels seen before the financial crisis. This could take the form of a simple announcement that:
- On the supply-side, no further major planning reform will take place in the foreseeable future and;
- On the demand-side, the current government’s extension to 2020 of the Help to Buy Equity Loan Scheme for new build homes will be stuck to.
This would help to extend the current improved conditions, but an ambitious government should rightly be concerning itself over the subsequent 99 days with the more challenging prospect of actually creating the environment to deliver a further expansion in housing output that is required to meet the country’s current and future needs.
Again, the changes required should not involve a major alteration in direction but instead meaningful and well thought through reforms to build on recent improvements. Although it has represented a step in the right direction, the NPPF could be tweaked to make it more effective. For example, bolstering the Duty to Cooperate provision and ensuring a variety of different sites are allocated in Local Plans to satisfy communities, get more homes built sooner and support small and medium sized house builders would help in the critical drive to bring more land through the system.
The new government should consider how, working within the existing planning framework, it could streamline and accelerate the processes involved with securing an implementable permission on a residential site and reducing the regulatory burdens. Even taking into account recent changes in far too many cases it still takes too long to get a site from an outline permission stage to a full implementable consent. Until that point a developer is unable to get on site and commence building. Focusing on practical enhancements to the current system to speed up the planning process and bring through more land for development would be a real achievement for a fledgling government and help lay the foundations for a step-change in housing delivery.