William Eichler 07 February 2017

Whitehall gives councils powers to fix Britain’s ‘broken’ housing market

The Government has told local authorities they must set aside land for thousands of new homes in order to tackle the housing crisis.

Whitehall today published its delayed housing white paper which outlines its intentions to force councils to produce up-to-date plans detailing their local housing needs which will be reviewed every five years.

However, the plans have been criticised for not putting councillors at the centre of the planning system.

Local authorities will receive more powers to pressure developers into building on land they own, the communities and local government secretary Sajid Javid said.

Housing companies will have to provide them with information on how long it takes to build houses after planning permission has been granted. This will mean councils will be able to select the fastest builders.

In other measures designed to crackdown on ‘landbanking’, the Government has reduced the time allowed between planning permission being granted and the start of building from three to two years.

Developers will also have to avoid ‘low density’ housing where land availability is short.

On the question of affordable housing, the Government said starter homes - offered to first-time buyers at a discount - would be aimed at households with combined incomes of less than £80,000 or £90,000 in London.

This white paper marks a change in focus from starter homes to a range of affordable housing options including both ownership and renting.

Setting out the contents of the white paper, Mr Javid told MPs planning restrictions in town centres would be relaxed but protection for the green belt would be maintained.

He also said a £3bn fund to help smaller building firms would be made available.

Describing the white paper, Mr Javid said: ‘It will help the homeowners of tomorrow getting more of the right homes built in the right places.

'And it will help our children and our children’s children by halting decades of decline and fixing our broken housing market.’

Responding to the white paper, LGiU chief executive Jonathan Carr-West warned it was a ‘missed opportunity’ to put councillors at the centre of the planning system.

‘We are pleased that the white paper contains many of the measures we have called for in our recent work with the Federation of Master Builders and with the National Trust.

‘We particularly welcome proposals to bring more small builders into house building, to tackle land banking and to assure quality development.’

However, he warned it did not go far enough to address the ‘democratic deficit in our planning system’.

‘In a recent survey, we found that seven out of 10 local councillors believe that the system is weighted in favour of developers at the expense of local communities,’ he said.

‘They also told us the system was too dominated by central government: a trend this white paper looks set to exacerbate rather than reverse.’

He also warned many of the Government’s aims will be hard to achieve because planning departments have been ‘hit particularly hard’ by cuts to council budgets.

Labour’s shadow secretary of state for housing John Healey MP described the white paper as ‘hot air’.

‘The measures announced so far in Theresa May’s long-promised housing white paper are feeble beyond belief,’ he said.

‘After seven years of failure and a thousand housing announcements, the housing crisis is getting worse not better.

‘There are 200,000 fewer home-owners, homelessness has doubled, and affordable house-building has slumped to a 24 year low

‘Ministers should be setting out clear plans to deal with these problems, but all Theresa May’s ministers have delivered so far is hot air.’

Commenting on the proposals relating to affordable accommodation, Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said: ‘A Government that thinks affordable homes can be worth £450,000 and should be available to those on £80,000 frankly doesn't have a clue.

‘Millions of people across the country are struggling to make ends meet, with many paying over half their income on rent.

‘This Conservative government is letting them down by failing to build the genuinely affordable homes they need and to replace homes sold off under Right to Buy.’

The Government’s decision to continue to prevent development on the green belt has also been criticised.

Ben Kite, the managing director of the ecological consultancy EPR, said: ‘The ecological and development communities would potentially have had much to gain from limited, selective and sensitive development of green belt land.’

‘There are misconceptions about the purpose of the green belt – among them the idea that the designation necessarily signifies ecological or landscape value,’ he said.

‘In fact, swathes of the green belt are overwhelmingly brown, intensively-managed farmland with little ecological value.’

‘The needs of development and ecology are by no means mutually exclusive, and carefully managed policy-driven sustainable projects can be among the most effective means of funding nature conservation and biodiversity gains,’ he added.

‘This can in turn add to local amenities that make homes and houses attractive to tenants and buyers, yielding benefits both for human health and future stewardship of the environment.’

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