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PM launches new National Planning Policy Framework

Theresa May announced earlier today the publication of a revised National Planning Policy Framework. The consultation will begin today and will close on Thursday 10 May 2018.

The Prime Minister said that her Government is ambitious about reforming planning policy to improve the supply of homes and challenged developers, local authorities and communities to work together to ensure that development in line with the draft Framework are brought forward.

Local authorities will be set higher targets for housebuilding and most controversially, councils who fail to deliver will be stripped of their right to make planning decisions.  Their planning powers could be removed and given to independent inspectors.

Planners will be expected to frame specific policies to satisfy demand for homes for key workers, students and delivering Build to Rent schemes.

Similar to the draft London Plan, developers will be encouraged to maximise densities of brownfield sites and intensify densities in town centres and at transport hubs.  There will be a focus on delivering the highest number of homes in locations where property is least affordable for local people.

Under the draft proposals, developers could be given two year permissions to start on site to guard against land banking. Local authorities will be able to take a developer’s track record of development delivery into account when considering applications where consents have been allowed to expire. This is serious stuff …

Clients should be encouraged by the Government’s challenge to build more homes, but the message is clear this is not ‘anything goes’.  This is a call for quantity and quality and quickly.

Theresa May’s speech was very much along the lines the government has taken since it printed its white paper a few months ago.  The political reality though has changed since its inception.  The general election has put further pressure on the government to think about young voters to win the youth vote back from Labour.  Solving the crisis for first time buyers therefore becomes an even greater political must.

The Local Government Association reacted by pointing out that 9/10 planning applications are currently granted by local councils. Nick Forbes its Senior Vice-Chair, who’s also the Labour Leader of Newcastle City Council, questioned the amount of government money available for house building. He complained that Treasury rules limit the amount of public money local authorities have access to for house building.

This followed the admission over the weekend by Sajid Javid who admitted that his department had returned about £800 million of unspent money to the Treasury of which £72 million was earmarked for affordable housing and £329 million for the government’s flag ship starter homes programme.

In London the issue over who pays for what could become a problem after the local elections in May.  Labour is expected to do well and take more boroughs from the Conservatives including some Tory strongholds.  This has the potential to bring conflict within government.  Central government will be keen to rely on developers and the private sector to deliver housing.

Labour Councils following party policy and the London Mayor’s proposals may be forced politically into financing development through the public purse and ultimately building themselves.

Further, authorities dominated by the left-wing Momentum movement of the Labour Party may find themselves in gridlock refusing private money but unable to finance development themselves. These ideological differences need watching and could stifle development.

Nationally Labour attacked the draft NPPF for failing to deal with the housing delivery. But while its spokesman John Healey complained that today’s announcement contained nothing new, neither did his response of attacking the government for not enough action.   Predictably he claimed that only Labour has a long-term plan to build the genuinely affordable homes the country needs”.

The Lib Dems, who may also take authorities in London in May such as Kingston and Richmond, also called for “tens of billions of real investment in new housing”.  They complained the government was too reliant on the private sector and claimed housing developers “will always act in the best interests of their shareholders which means keeping house prices high”.  Poking fun at the venue chosen by the Prime Minister for her press conference, they delighted in saying she was clearly speaking with her back against the wall.

It’s perhaps a sign of the difficulties of the division between national politics and local nimbyism that despite her enthusiasm for housebuilding this morning. By lunchtime some journalists had already picked up that in her own Maidenhead constituency the Prime Minister herself had been involved in trying to block some new local developments!

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