Our summary of the key Planning promises for the 2 key candidates (from a total of 12 candidates) highlights the planning commitments. A lot of grand promises are made, but as they say, the devil is in the detail and the detail is sorely missing for most of the key pledges (namely how they will be funded). There is arguably no standout performer on planning and not a whole lot between them on concrete pledges to solve London’s housing crisis. That is disappointing, given that most voters in London are concerned with housing, which is very expensive in the capital.
VACANT HIGH VALUE LOCAL AUTHORITY HOUSING (CLAUSES 67-77)
What is proposed?
The Government will require a payment from Councils with housing stock each financial year. The payment will be equivalent to the deemed sale value of vacant ‘high value’ council homes, less any costs or deductions but regardless of whether they are in fact sold.
What are the issues?
The key to the success (or otherwise) of the voluntary RTB lies in its funding. Councils are set to pick up the slack, with these payments intended for grants to housing associations, compensating them for selling RTB stock at a discount. There remain unanswered questions about how this complex relationship will work in practice. In particular, the method of calculating the payment and the assumptions upon which is based may prove challenging. There are also uncertainties around:
- Definitions – drafting Regulations that work will be difficult. The concept of ‘vacancy’ has proven notoriously difficult to define in other contexts and was recently sidestepped altogether by Government in its ill-fated Vacant Building Credit policy. Similarly, determining ‘high value’ will be critical with the valuation exercise being notoriously difficult. Which method(s) will be used? How will it take account of regional variations?
- Shortfalls – who covers any shortfall in receipts to top up grants? Will persistent shortfalls undermine the long-term availability of grant funding, diminish confidence and threaten the effectiveness of the measure? What happens if sums raised from sales are insufficient to cover the costs of replacement?
- ‘Social’ housing – if replacement proves ineffective and stock further declines, the concept of funding the sale of (housing association) housing stock through the sale of (council) housing stock reinforces a perceived ideological shift, moving away from traditional notions of state provision.
- Changes to the Bill during the Committee stage would impose a duty on the Secretary of State, the Mayor of London and London housing authorities to achieve the provision of at least two new units of affordable housing for the disposal of each of high value housing. How viable that is remains to be seen. The key issue would seem to be the challenges, particularly in London, of achieving ‘one for one’ (let alone two for one) replacements of stock that is sold. Local authorities will take a closer interest than ever in receiving and delivering new stock and partnership approaches to new development should reflect that.
As the Housing and Planning Bill completes its Committee Stage in the House of Commons, this second part of our Q&A considers how the amendments to the Mayor of London’s call-in powers (Clause 110) and the Secretary of State’s power to determine applications (Clause 114) will influence local decisions.
Call-in powers for the Mayor of London
The Mayor can call-in, or direct a local planning authority to refuse, applications of potential strategic importance for Greater London. “PSI applications” are restricted to large scale developments or major infrastructure projects, as defined in The Town and Country Planning (Mayor of London) Order 2008.
What would change?
The wider powers would require London boroughs to consult the Mayor before determining specific applications. Directions to consult would apply to applications for development on safeguarded wharfs or developments that would affect key London sightlines, embodying the promised devolution of control over these developments to the Mayor.
PSI applications would also be broadened, allowing developments to be called-in on the basis of the elements of the London Plan, or other development plan documents. This would allow different thresholds for PSI applications to be set for Growth Areas identified in the London Plan, giving the Mayor greater influence over development in those areas.
Applications direct to the Secretary of State
What would the Bill change?
Clause 114 would expand the Secretary of State’s existing powers to determine planning applications for poorly performing local planning authorities. These are currently limited to “major development”, but the changes would broaden this to any type of application that the Secretary of State may specify.
Why are the changes required?
Clause 114 is part of a range of measures illustrating the Government’s increasingly tough talk on authorities with a track record of slow or poor-quality decision-making. The changes are part of the effort to give teeth, on paper, to the 2017 deadline for Local Plan adoption, and other amendments proposed in the Bill enabling the Secretary of State to take a more active role in plan-making noted in the first part of our Q&A.
Whilst Clause 114 and other sections of the Bill are designed to provide a practical alternative to the local route, there are some missing links:
- the possibility that some overstretched authorities may happily cede the administrative burden of, and responsibility for, applications to the Secretary of State;
- the way that a process for obtaining an independent view on objectively assessed needs and housing land supply could do more to promote investor confidence.