The government’s Housing White Paper had been heavily trailed and expectations were high as Sajid Javid delivered his statement in the House of Commons this afternoon. Having set out the scale of the challenge facing the country in relation to housing since Theresa May’s ascension as prime minister, pressure was on the government to deliver solutions.
Has today’s White Paper lived up to expectations and built a strong foundation for the government to build on? It undoubtedly goes further on supply-side measures than anything produced during David Cameron’s government where the emphasis was on home ownership and introducing demand-side measures that arguably fuelled demand – and prices – even further.
The White Paper sets out an ambitious agenda, particularly in relation to land and planning policies. Local authorities will be held to account on delivering against realistic housing needs assessments, with a suite of measures in place to tackle those who fail to fall into line. The previously-announced Housing Infrastructure Fund will open to bids this year, enabling local authorities to support housing delivery in their areas. Councils will be obliged to plan for more housing where the government invests in major infrastructure such as HS2.
There will be less scope for planning permission to be refused or appealed due to design or density, and making an appeal will carry costs. Council planning departments will cheer the ability to raise additional revenue through increased planning fees.
Completion notices will be served more liberally, and developers will be expected to implement a permission for housing development within two years rather than three. The practice of securing planning permission on a speculative basis will be clamped down on, in an effort to dissuade land banking.
Today’s White Paper maintains strong protections for the Green Belt, something that Javid emphasised in his statement to the Commons having flown a kite in recent weeks. This is sensible, given that many Conservative local authorities will be disgruntled by the range of other obligations being placed on them today. The consultation coming out of today’s White Paper does, however, propose allowing local authorities to amend Green Belt boundaries where they have exhausted other reasonable options for meeting development requirements, in exchange for improvements to the environmental quality or accessibility of remaining Green Belt land.
The White Paper has considerably less to say in other areas. There is nothing revolutionary on the private rented sector or for housing associations. As expected, the Starter Homes policy is being adjusted and aimed at those most in need. Right to Buy for housing association tenants remains a vague aspiration, with this year’s larger regional trial providing cover to the government to do nothing more for now.
Overall, Sajid Javid will be happy. He has delivered a step-change in the debate on housing, and provided an ambitious framework for the Conservatives to take a decent stab at delivering against their target of one million new homes by 2020. Whether there will be a new generation grateful to him and the Conservative Party in a few years’ time remains to be seen.
You can read our full report on the Housing White Paper here.