The government is telling councils to produce local plans for new homes in their area by 2017 – or Whitehall will ensure those plans are produced for them.
In a statement introducing the Housing and Planning Bill, the government has reiterated its claim that it will ensure a million homes are built by 2020, that it will create the much-publicised 200,000 starter homes, and give Right To Buy to housing association tenants.
However, the statement is highly critical of many councils. “While 82 per cent of councils have published local plans – which should set out how many homes they plan to deliver over a set period – only 65 per cent have fully adopted them and there are still almost 20 per cent of councils that do not have an up to date plan at all” it says.
The statement says that ministers will shortly reveal details of how they will intervene when councils have failed to get started on their plans.
Back in 2012 the National Planning Policy Framework aimed to be, in the government’s words, “a way of cutting back on red tape and endless planning documents to focus on what people care about – local roads, schools and homes that meet their needs.”
In their plans, councils are required to produce an annual forecast of how many homes they plan to build in their area – usually over a period of around 15 years. They must also be reviewed regularly, typically every five years, and involve consultation programmes on where new developments go and what they look like.
The government says that under the new Bill being put to MPs “if councils fail to produce and bring into force an up to date plan for new homes by 2017, we will work with local people to ensure one is drawn up.”
In addition to announcements made at the Conservative conference about automatic planning permission in principle on brownfield sites and the identification and selling off of high-value vacant publicly-owned sites, the government has also announced that 2013 temporary planning rule change allowing disused offices to be converted into homes without the need for consent will be made a permanent change.
Reaction from the housebuilding sector has been predictably supportive.
“Ensuring local authorities abide by their responsibilities and put a robust plan in place will ensure more homes get built more quickly via a more constructive, less bureaucratic process” says Stewart Baseley, executive chairman of the Home Builders Federation.
“Some sites have been locked up for too long and these measures, coupled with a brownfield register and fund, will get them moving. While these new measures build on the National Planning Policy Framework and are welcome, the system needs to really pick up speed in order to deliver the vibrant property sector on which the success of our economy depends” says Jeremy Blackburn, head of policy and parliamentary affairs at the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors.