Housing Minister tells PlaceShapers 2020: Thank you for the work you do in supporting the social housing sector including the 2 million people who rely on you and the services that you provide.
24 November 2020 more...
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PlaceShapers response to Planning for the Future Consultation
PlaceShapers is the national network of community-based social landlords. Currently comprising over 100 members of varying types and sizes, between us we own or manage nearly 900,000 homes, with over 70,000 more in the pipeline to 2022.
We share the Government’s ambition to build the new homes this country desperately needs. We welcome the ambition of the white paper to help us meet this urgent need. We also welcome the ideas to help simplify and speed up the planning system and to develop new digital methods for public involvement and engagement in the planning process.
As government has acknowledged, this consultation does not contain specific proposals. We welcome the dialogue with MHCLG to date on the white paper and look forward to continuing to discuss key elements of the proposals, in particular developing robust plans for how we increase the supply of affordable and social rented homes, and the funding mechanism to deliver these homes.
PlaceShapers members are all committed to working and investing for the long term in places, in partnership with local authorities and local communities. We have concerns that some of the proposals in this paper will centralise decision making at the expense of local knowledge and expertise. We think any new planning system should place a greater emphasis on the experience of policy making and delivering homes that work in different communities and demographics.
Finally, we are disappointed that, at present, this consultation misses a key opportunity to improve the quality, space and accessibility standards of new homes. Design and beauty need to be both internal and external, and the planning system has to do more to help ensure we build homes of a higher quality and that will meet our net zero carbon ambition.
Pillar 1: Planning for Development
Our members would all agree that there are significant challenges with the current planning system. The system can be too slow, there is a national shortage of qualified planning professionals and we often fail to deliver the homes we need, specifically enough affordable and social rented homes. Research from Crisis and the National Housing Federation (NHF) shows that we should be building 90,000 social homes per year. Last year only 6,338 new social rented homes were built, a fall of 84% since 2010. Building homes that local people can afford, including significantly more homes for social and affordable rent, should be the key priority for planning. Alongside this, priorities should be focused on supporting the local economy, including job creation, and starting the journey towards meeting the net zero carbon requirement in 2050.
But while the planning system can be frustrating, recent policy reviews such as the Letwin Review show that the planning system is not the main reason why we are not building enough new homes. Letwin points to the need to develop out more mixed tenure sites, and to prevent developers from sitting on land that has been granted planning permission.
Questions 5 - 7
We support the white paper’s intention of a greater presumption in favour of development and that land is identified to those build homes we so desperately need. However, we do not think the suggested categories are a helpful way to achieve this. Development has the most chance of being agreed and then of being supported in a local area if it is developed in close consultation with local people, meeting their needs and aspirations. While we support the simplification of local plans (question 6) and ways to make them far more accessible, we believe that it is vital that local plans are kept local and ‘owned’ by the local community.
We hear from members that there is a real shortage of local planners working in local authority planning departments. Adequate funding to ensure properly resourced planning departments would help to speed up the planning process and provide new opportunities for engaging local people to help counter some opposition to new homes being built.
Questions 8 and 9
We have a desperate shortage of affordable housing in this country and we know there can often be opposition to new development. We welcome the Government’s vision in the white paper to help support more homes of all tenures to be built. But we believe that local authorities and local communities are best placed to decide how many homes, and crucially, the tenure of homes that are needed.
We strongly believe that new settlements, with sufficient local amenities such as schools and GP surgeries, are crucial to solving the housing crisis. However, such new settlements can rarely be pre-determined and require a much greater local focus. Therefore, we are unsure that the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects regime is the best mechanism for delivering these.
We support the ambition to digitise and to bring more people into the discussion about planning in their area. We hope that earlier engagement with more people in local plans will help to reduce opposition to development.
However, we need to ensure this does not leave some people behind, who prefer to engage in more traditional ways. We would favour a blended approach to online and offline consultation. Innovative ideas like community panels should be trialled as methods to increase engagement in the planning process.
We support the aspiration for a 30-month timescale to produce a Local Plan. However, we are very concerned that there are not currently enough resources available to local councils to allow them to meaningfully consult on and develop plans in this timescale. Significant additional resource must be provided to local authorities to achieve the 30-month timescale proposed.
We strongly believe Neighbourhood Plans should be retained. We believe there should be a stronger emphasis on the build out of developments and support the conclusions in the Letwin Review in this regard.
Pillar Two: Planning for Beautiful and Sustainable Places
We support the white paper’s emphasis on improving the design of new homes. We need to all be focused on delivering homes that local places want and that can help meet our net zero carbon ambitions. We agree with the place-based thinking on new design codes: different designs will work for some communities and not others.
Social landlords should be involved in the development of these codes. We have considerable knowledge of the places we work, so have a great deal to contribute to design codes. Moreover, as these codes will need to be drawn up quickly to meet the ambitious timescales for plans to be signed off, we need to ensure they will result in financially viable schemes for affordable homes.
But design has to go hand in hand with quality, and there are significant gaps in the white paper in this area. The coronavirus pandemic has shown that, for far too many people, their home is too small and lacks outdoor space, either public or private. Therefore, alongside new design codes we believe it’s imperative that new design guides ensure that internal and external space standards, and the accessibility of new homes for all potential residents, should be included in national and local requirements.
It is also unacceptable, from an economic and sustainability perspective, that developers are building homes that Housing Associations sometimes do not want to buy due to their poor quality (as cited in the consultation paper, pg66). All affordable housing, indeed, all housing, we build should meet pre-defined quality criteria and there should be an obligation for developers to engage with RPs at pre-planning stage to ensure a ‘buyer’ on completion.
Our members’ priorities are to help develop and support mixed communities. These communities are different in different places, but always seek to contain mixed tenures of homes that people can afford, plentiful green spaces and access to local jobs and amenities.
One significant challenge places face now in terms of new housing is poor quality conversions being made possible due to changes in permitted development rules. These are a salutatory lesson in not prioritising speed of delivery over providing good homes people can live in without risk to their health. One block of flats in Watford has no windows in many of the homes it offers. There are several other examples. We strongly urge government to overturn recent changes to permitted development rights, or risk undermining the great intentions in the white paper about superior design of new homes.
Pillar three: Planning for infrastructure and connected places
Land value uplift and land value capture are factors that affect and distort our housing system. Therefore, we welcome that Government is exploring ways to ensure that a greater proportion of any development’s total value is spent on affordable homes and wider infrastructure. However, we have serious concerns that the proposed new levy risks a significant loss of affordable homes. 50% of new affordable home are delivered through S106 so it is imperative any new levy delivers at this scale as an absolute minimum.
If a new levy was introduced, for it to achieve the Government's stated ambition that it should provide at least as much affordable housing as at present, the contribution to affordable housing should be ring-fenced. The core infrastructure obligations referred to on p67 set out the affordable housing requirements per area for the numbers and type of housing, and therefore effectively ‘ring fence’ a portion of the infrastructure levy. This should be written into the levy. If it is not, we believe it risks being negotiated out by developers. In Peterborough alone over the last 5 years, more than 4000 potential affordable homes have been lost because of such negotiations by developers. There is also a significant risk of local authorities diverting the money to other pressing spending priorities. As key partners in provision of homes, jobs and services in places, Housing Associations should also be closely involved in the decisions about how the remainder of Infrastructure Levy is spent
In order to be effective, the proposed levy will have to capture effectively land value uplift across different development types and locations. Taxing at Gross Development Value at a nationally set rate does not account for the fact that different developments in different places achieve different uplifts. Much of the development our members do is in less desirable and therefore less profitable areas, which would be penalised by a national rate, whereas larger developments in already affluent locations would be incentivised. Therefore, the levy should be locally set or at the very least be sensitive to local circumstances.
If the levy is introduced, we urge the Government to follow up by rapidly publishing guidance on how to stop developers from holding back land for development until they see how the new system will play out. Guidance should also be offered on how funding will be made available as we transition from the current ‘up-front’ system of S106 to the levy system where payment is received upon completion of the development.
The very minimum the new levy should provide is the same amount of affordable housing; we should be aspiring for far more. Recent research from the NHF shows that the true number of people in need of social housing in England is now 3.8m. This equates to 1.6m households – 500,000 more than recorded on official waiting lists.
In order to achieve this, we need clear guidance that can be hard-wired into the system. This should clearly require Housing Association involvement with developers at pre-application stage and offer clarity on the requirement for detailed, robust local policy on affordable housing requirements including numbers, types, tenures and locations. We also firmly recommend that housing associations are exempt from the levy for affordable housing schemes, as currently applied to the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL). We believe that application of CIL or its equivalent would remove any ‘subsidy’ that makes affordable housing affordable.
Our members can show how crucial on-site provision of affordable housing is essential for building mixed communities. The right to purchase should be extended to housing associations.
If the Infrastructure Levy is implemented, it is vital that affordable housing is ring-fenced. As outlined above, if not we are very concerned that the funding for housing would be at risk due to other competing priorities from local authorities who are all operating in very challenging financial circumstances.