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With no strategic decision making to help the Government they remain on the horns of a dilemma in defending local choice whilst urging a solution to what is a national crisis, even though it ultimately goes well beyond just the weaknesses in the current planning system.
The Government has consequently resisted pressure to demand Green Belt Reviews around London and the major cities. It has instead crafted what it believes is a clever pincer movement on Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) that allows them to continue to champion local choice, but actually gives Councils little room for manoeuvre on planning for their full Objectively Assessed Housing Need (OAHN) through an up-to-date Local Plan. Even where a LPA can demonstrate constraints that might prevent meeting OAHN the strengthening of the rules on the Duty to Cooperate will make it harder to duck the issue.
There may be some disappointment that the deadline is simply a requirement to publish a Local Plan by March 2017 but at least it's a start, especially for those areas that have not had an up-to-date plan for the last 20 years! Hopefully the threat from Brandon Lewis that he will send in Planning Inspectors to do the job will be enough to get most LPAs to have a sensible Plan within the next 18 months.
All of these changes, along with further tweaks to encourage more brownfield development, will help, but none represent an overall vision for meeting the housing crisis or a real game changer that will make the difference by 2020 as has been promised. The reality is that whilst the Government claims credit for the upturn in consents and completions, this is more a response to an improving market, and largely achieved in spite of, rather than because of, the ongoing drag caused by the failures of the planning system.
Further problems are being stored up through the continuing confusion surrounding Community Infrastructure Levy, which is now so complicated there are only a handful of people in the country that fully understand its implication for land economics and viability. It is certainly affecting the delivery of affordable housing, especially with Housing Associations now coming under pressure from Budget changes to limit future rental increases, further impacting on viability.
Ultimately I suspect there will be a panic in about two years’ time when it becomes clear that 2020 targets for new homes and affordability will be missed. It will be interesting to see at that point whether protection of Green Belt under the cloak of ‘Localism’ will finally be challenged as no longer being in the ‘national’ interest.
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