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To underpin its pledges to address the problem, the Government continues to announce further initiatives in the Autumn Statement, many of which are already encapsulated in the Housing & Planning Bill, now about to enter the Committee Stage of its progress through the House. The Bill contains main helpful measures, all of which will potentially assist delivery. Clearly, the position is improving with the announcement that completions in the year to September 2015 reached the highest levels since 2008. However, the jury is still out on whether these individual initiatives amount to a comprehensive long-term strategy that addresses the fundamental problems.
This analysis was borne out by the participants in the Alan Cherry Debate, hosted by Countryside earlier this month. Although a positive move to broaden the range and tenure of affordable housing that has been broadly welcomed by the industry, Lord Kerslake questioned the lack of clarity about how the Starter Home initiative would work in practice and the risk it posed both in the long term to affordable housing provision, and in the short term to delivery because of uncertainty over how it might be implemented. In many ways the Autumn Statement raises more questions than it answers about the Starter Homes initiative.
Measures such as ‘Permission in Principle’ that reduces cost and risk at the planning stage will be helpful in encouraging SME builders that have been lost over the last 15 years to re-enter the market.
The requirement for Local Plans to be in place by 2017, has given a much needed spur to some authorities to look beyond a five year supply, which for many has served as a surrogate Local Plan, with land only ever released at a rate sufficient to maintain the five year supply. The Local Plan Review announced by the Government will hopefully provide a further means of persuading authorities to plan positively for the longer term. However, we still await details of how the Government will respond to those local authorities who fail to produce a local plan by 2017.
Measures to reduce delays in finalising s106 agreements, after a resolution to grant, are to be welcomed given that our experience on larger sites is that these can take between 6 and 12 months following a Committee decision to approve. This is obviously slowing down our ability to deliver new homes.
We welcome CLG’s review of the Community Infrastructure Levy and await with interest the recommendations of the Report.
Finally, rumours abound that at some point in the near future Government is going to address the long awaited rise in Planning Fees. Whilst any hike in costs is normally unwelcome, we all recognise that chronic under capacity and resourcing in many local planning authorities and County Councils, is seriously impeding our ability to move schemes into delivery on site more quickly. The plea must be that if LPAs are to be given additional funds, or even the ability to set their own fees, the additional funds must be ring fenced to the planning function and tied to demonstrable improvements to the service offered.
So, the initiatives aimed at increasing supply and home ownership continue unabated and there is evidence that, coupled with an improved market over the last few years, this is translating into higher delivery on the ground. The concern as to whether this amounts to a strategy that will deliver the Government’s targets and meet the country’s housing needs, remain unanswered however.
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