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Budgets 'Ambitious plan’ to fix the housing crisis

23/11/2017

FBC Manby Bowdler's expert planning team listened with interest to Chancellor Philip Hammond’s ‘ambitious plan’ to fix the housing crisis and build 300,000 new homes a year. 

Below Planning Solicitor Mark Turner explains why although there may be ‘no single magic bullet’ to solve the problem, the package of measures announced add up to a positive move in the right direction.

"One of the headline announcements was the abolition of stamp duty for first-time buyers on properties up to a value of £300,000. That will increase demand for housing and make it easier for young people to get onto the ladder, and to be able to take up whatever housing supply is delivered. The issue is that the target is ambitious  - only 217,000 new homes were created in England last year, up from just under 190,000 the year before.

The more fundamental problem seems to be housing supply itself; the Chancellor recognised some key points. Firstly, that to bring the actual cost of a house down, it is necessary to increase housing supply – this interrelationship of land price with supply is often forgotten. 

Secondly, and linked to his plans for tax reliefs for small and medium enterprises, it is important to help the smaller housebuilder, rather than to leave delivery to the big names.

This is particularly important in rural areas such as Shropshire (where sites tend to be relatively small), and indicates a return to the thinking that prompted ministerial statements a few years back. 

Thirdly, his plans to train more construction workers are also a good idea, with a recognised skills crisis in the building industry, similar to that in manufacturing.

The Budget included much needed funding for infrastructure developments, which will hopefully help to unlock land for housing. Measures to clean up polluted industrial sites for house building were also highlighted, which will help to achieve the Chancellor’s aim of ensuring that new development is focussed in urban areas.

Mr Hammond confirmed the green belt will remain sacrosanct, with development focused in urban areas, particularly in city centres and around transport hubs. But many transport hubs, such as railway stations, are actually in the green belt. An opportunity was perhaps missed to positively enable the release of land in such places where occupiers of the development would be more likely to use public transport rather than a car. 

Mr Hammond recently told the BBC’s Marr Show that the Government will intervene to ensure that planning permissions for houses which have not been built, are implemented.

The Budget announced that that intervention will come in the form of an urgent review into why the number of permitted but unbuilt houses is so high. Whilst the exploration of deliverability is welcome, more immediate and decisive action would have been preferred, given that this problem has been talked about for so many years

The plans include measures to use Compulsory Purchase powers to acquire land where the reason for not building the houses is commercial rather than a technical issue with the site.

The Chancellor’s determination to get missing homes built is admirable, but using the CPO system will likely add extra delay, and potentially be costly for the Government, since land owners will have to be compensated properly if land is taken away from them.

There were several other omissions from proposals which we had hoped to see included.

We would have liked to see a requirement that development plans should be simpler and shorter, and completely avoid bland statements of the obvious, and reform of the neighbourhood planning process to ensure that a plan has to conform with an adopted district wide plan, and would help to deliver that wider plan. 

We would have liked to see the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) scrapped, and be replaced with a clear statement in any housing allocation of what specific infrastructure would have to be provided by each development, with district wide infrastructure being funded by the Council Tax instead.

On balance however, there was much which was positive, despite the lack of detail and the depressing delay for another review.

For more information regards the budget and the effects of this on Town & Country Planning matters, please contact Mark on 01952 208412 or m.turner@fbcmb.co.uk

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