If you have been following the press in recent weeks you may have come across some soundbites by The Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, or the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, Sajid Javid, on their proposed blueprint to provide the conservative vision to deliver a productive and dynamic nation. This came in the form of the HM Treasury document titled “Fixing the foundations: creating a more prosperous nation” of July 2015.
The elements that directly related to planning can be found in Chapter 9 and resulted in a number of headlines that caught the attention of both the press and a number of my existing clients.
In a nutshell, the predominant issues raised and the targets of Chapter 9 are to provide more homes that people can afford to buy. Obviously the ineffective housing market outside of the M25 over the course of the past 6 years has been a significant concern. Especially that given at present the planning system does not really seem to be providing signs of encouragement that there will be a significant change in attitude towards development sites and the delivery of housing. The document states that the intention is to unlock a number of parcels of brownfield land in the form of a zonal system, in order to allocate automatic permission in principle to specific sites that can be used to strategically contribute to the housing marketing and relieve pressure. The intention is to overcome “the slow, expensive and uncertain process” that “reduces the appetite to build”.
Further to this, there is an intention to provide devolution in planning powers and improvements in starter homes and rights to buy, and even the novel idea of potentially allowing permitted development to increase the height of buildings within London by a further 2 storeys without planning permission.
It is the last of those target points that has provided most of the headlines on the subject. However, it is also the one that is least likely to be adopted once it is clear that delivery is near impossible.
Myself and other professionals within our industry wore our cynical hats as we read through the chapter of what essentially is a propaganda puff piece. The ability to implement the measures outlined within the chapter are highly questionable and the ability of a limited number of cherry picked, allocated sites to contribute to housing markets in a significant manner is unproven.
Anyone that heard John Humphries’s questioning of Sajid Javid on Radio 4, in relation to the effectiveness of allocating specific sites (and therefore raising their land value of already potentially expensive sites to decontaminate; in turn creating viability pressures then eventually roll on to reduce the schedule of less profitable starter and smaller homes any development looks to provide) would note that the quality and substance of the responses were such that is clear that no real qualitative or quantitative discussion with professionals in the industry was undertaken before the document was delivered.
This continues and will continue to be an ongoing issue with public sector drafted white papers, policies and legislation, that does not discuss the real issues that exist with the people that deal with them every day, the private sector, and which continues to overlook the fact that the slow planning system is exacerbated by a lack of manpower within the respective planning authorities within the UK.
In response to the burning question of every planning professional, “Why not unlock strategic, non-contaminated and non-contributory pockets of land within the designated Green Belt to contribute to housing pressures?”; the response from Sajid Javid was one that we hear time and time again, “the Green Belt is sacrosanct”. That is a question to be discussed another day, but to be clear the Green Belt is not sacrosanct and the original purpose of it has been lost and misinterpreted by local planning authorities for years.
So my advice therefore is to ignore the snippets of promise that have come from this treasury document and hope that the much needed Housing Bill, which we understand is due to be delivered within the Autumn, provides a more pragmatic and deliverable approach to at least contribute to the ongoing pressures the housing sector faces.
MRICS BSc (Hons) RICS Accredited Expert Witness
NextPhase Development Ltd.