Mark Whitehead 09 March 2018

Spotlight on the NPPF

Spotlight on the NPPF image

Responses to the government's consultation document for the review of the National Planning Policy Framework have been mixed - which is not surprising. The NPPF, inaugurated in 2012 to simplify planning processes - reducing the various regulations and guidance from 1,000 pages to less than 50 - covers a complex area of public policy.

The proposals announced by prime minister Theresa May touch a wide range of issues from care for the environment to the need for affordable housing to the role of local authorities.

The question when the dust settles at the end of the consultation period in May will be whether the housing crisis, now recognised as such across the political spectrum, will be any closer to being solved.

That seems to be the intention. Announcing the review, Mrs May said she had spoken to young people who were angry that they could not afford to buy their own home. 'They are right to be angry,' she said.

The main thrust of the Government's approach is to speed up the planning application process by removing 'barriers', forcing local authorities to grant permissions faster and get more homes built.

At the same time there will be tighter conditions on the construction industry. It will be more difficult for developers to go back on commitments to affordable housing. A crackdown on 'landbanking' will mean councils can revoke planning permission if the proposed building does not go ahead within two years.

The housing charity Shelter welcomed the review proposals, recognising the scale of the housing emergency and the fact that the current housebuilding system is 'clearly not fit for purpose.'

'The prime minister has shown the Government is willing to take on developers and challenge them over unfair practices that deny communities the affordable homes they need,' the charity said.

However, the review has been broadly welcomed by industry. 'In general terms we are comfortable,' the House Builders Federation told LocalGov. 'We welcome measures to speed up the planning system and stimulate all parts of the market. The new document presents challenges for both local authorities and developers but overall is balanced with the clear intention of planning for more dwellings.'

The employers' organisation the Institute of Directors said it welcomed moves to 'enhance the transparency of the planning process' and said it was 'ultimately successive governments, regulation and planning that has restricted the supply of new homes in this country, not the housebuilders.'

However, the response from local government leaders has been rather different. From their perspective, the problem is not that they have held up development - a claim they strongly reject - but that the Government has refused to allow councils to build houses in any numbers.

Lord Porter, the Conservative chair of the Local Government Association, pointed out that in the last year councils granted nearly twice as many planning permissions as the number of new homes that were completed - more than 423,000 homes given the go-ahead are still waiting to be built.

The last time the country delivered 300,000 homes which this country needs each year, Lord Porter said, was in the 1970s, when councils were responsible for more than 40% of them.

'It’s essential that we get back to that,' he said, adding that 'in order for that to happen, councils 'have to be able to borrow to build homes again.'

However, the current proposals go nowhere near creating the kind of role Lord Porter wants for local government in providing new homes.

And once the fog clears from the plethora of responses to the Government's proposals, the essential question appears quite simple: who should build the houses the country so desperately needs?

As Lord Porter and others have highlighted, there has been no change in the Government's answer to this question: housebuilding is for commercial developers, not local authorities.

It remains to be seen whether the review will produce real solutions and provide homes for those angry young people Mrs May spoke to.

If not, after a few years policy makers will again be forced to ponder that if the private sector cannot provide the homes people need, perhaps the public sector - local authorities - should once again be given the freedom to do so.

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