Cheshire Campaign to Protect Rural England

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The CPRE Regional view

Wednesday, 03 May 2017 09:19

CPRE North West Regional Group Chairman Peter Raynes assesses the new Housing White Paper.

This year has seen the launch of a new white paper on Housing setting out the Governments proposals to meet the housing shortage in the Country. I suspect almost all CPRE members would agree we need to build homes where they are really needed, and also that with proper planning this need not result in damage to our landscape and environment.

There is much in this new White paper that the CPRE can be positive about, and indeed support. Unlike previous changes to the planning system there is an understanding that to provide the housing the country needs is a complex problem, and that changing the planning system will not deliver new homes on its own. There are also signs that the Government is beginning to realise the problems created by the recent “reforms” to planning.

Previous initiatives have concentrated on just one issue, reducing planning controls to release more land for development. In theory this should increase land supply and therefore increase house building and reduce the price of houses, but there are other equally important issues. There has to be the capacity to build houses, house building needs to be more attractive than land banking, and planning law needs to be carefully written to avoid its exploitation by land speculators. However, previous reforms have been excessively reliant on advice from the housing lobby and “think tanks” that appear to have little experience in business and a naïve understanding of markets. Inevitably it has not really worked. New house building has increased, from a low of 145,000 in 2009/10 to 190,000 in 2016/17. From long term records this looks like the normal recovery from a very severe house building and would in all likelihood have happened anyway without any change to the planning system.

While these previous changes do not appear to have added much if anything to the level of house-building, the past few years have seen high growth in planning permissions granted on appeal, often in unsuitable locations and won against the decision of local Councillors and the agreed development plans. It has also seen Council Local Development plans delayed or refused by inspectors, due to a small minority of commercial interests using their lawyers to undermine the plan, motivated by their wish to add sites they own. It is ironic to see Central Government complaining about Councils not having development plans when the blame so clearly lies with their own planning reforms.

It is therefore very welcome to see a new approach that clearly looks in greater detail at the problem. The paper considers how to increase building capacity. Many house builders went out of business in the 2007/8 economic crisis. Currently 60% of all new homes in the UK are built by just 10 major companies. It is not reasonable to expect these companies to expand capacity and take the commercial risk of building out developments faster than they can sell the units. So the white paper will include ideas to encourage new builders to enter or re-enter the market as well as encourage self-build and building by Institutions such as pension funds.

The paper also accepts there are faults in the way housing requirements are calculated and seeks to clarify this. My hope would be that they will also consider that Local Authorities need a system which is manageable with the resources they have, responsible builders need a system which allows plans to be completed in a timely manner, and removes the loopholes that allow land bankers to do so much harm to the county side while preventing new homes actually being built.

I wish the new Housing Minister, Gavin Barwell every success in his difficult new job.

Peter Raynes, March 2017

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Trent and Mersey Canal, Middlewich