Thomas Bridge 03 December 2014

Autumn Statement: Osborne pushes through housing plan amid infrastructure drive

Chancellor George Osborne has confirmed major reforms designed to speed up house building and the release of public sector land in his Autumn Statement.

In his final Autumn Statement of this parliament, the chancellor said the national infrastructure plan - which includes housebuilding and road development measures - was ‘helping this country attract more investment from around the world than any other single country in Europe.’

‘Improving productivity for all businesses also demands a major investment in our nation’s infrastructure. Because we’ve controlled our day-to-day spending, I can confirm we will invest more as a share of our GDP over this parliament and the next than was achieved under the whole period of the Labour government,’ he added.

Yet National Housing Federation (NHF) chief executive David Orr warned the Government had today failed to provide a plan ‘to end the housing crisis’. ‘Where's the urgency?’ he tweeted.

Plans for a new garden city in Bicester, Oxfordshire, announced this week will see 13,000 new homes built on brownfield land understood to have formerly belonged to the Ministry of Defence. Around £100m of public spending and loans will be used to back the project, which would add an additional site to the Ebbsfleet development announced in March.

The Government has committed itself to releasing public sector land between 2015 and 2020 with the capacity for up to 150,000 homes.

Danny Alexander chief secretary to the Treasury yesterday revealed that a government agency could also soon be planning, building and selling thousands of homes on public sector land to the private sector.

The Treasury is poised to undertake a feasibility study into the plan, with a pilot project underway at Northstowe, a former RAF base in Cambridgeshire.

Further measures outlined in the national infrastructure plan include efforts to speed up the release of brownfield land for housing development through proposed Compulsory Purchase Reforms, due for consultation at Budget 2015.

New data will also be published on council performance surrounding the processing of smaller planning applications within eight weeks.

However housing campaigners attacked moves to scrap 106 requirements for developers to provide affordable housing on projects of 10 homes or less outside of rural areas. NHF head of policy, Rachel Fisher, described the announcement as a ‘hammer blow to the 1.7m households currently waiting for social housing’ and warned the measure could also lead to ‘developers building fewer homes on smaller sites to avoid having to pay for affordable housing’.

Communities secretary Eric Pickles said the move would relieve these groups from ‘excessive section 106 charges’ and ‘help diversify the industry, so it has a broader range of thriving housebuilders’.

Ministers have announced plans to extend sufficient funding to ensure 275,000 new affordable homes can be delivered over the next parliament.

British Property Federation chief executive Liz Peace said the national infrastructure plan was ‘a welcome step in ensuring that the planning system works more effectively in bringing forward development and creating the conditions for growth’.

However she added that structural reform was ‘only half the battle’ and urged the Government to ‘ensure that the system is properly resource at a local level, and to do all it can to drive greater investment in to the built environment as a whole’.

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