Turn up the volume, three suggestions …

The first two parts of this post identified the clear need for new housing and the important role that the private rented sector needs to make going forward.  This part makes three broad suggestions:

Firstly, recognise the limits of Localism.  Once the right locations for growth are identified, the debate should not be around whether but how to deliver. Recent changes to the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects regime allow a wider range of projects to be dealt with under Development Consent Orders.  Homes were excluded.  Why? Proposals that would make a significant contribution (say 3,000 homes or more) could and should benefit from the DCO regime,  the use of CPO and other powers to bring them forward.

Secondly, planning should plan positively for new settlements at a sensible scale relative to needs.  If there is significant unmet need in an area then the LEP should be charged with reviewing the best locations for major new development.

Thirdly, we should think about what a new Towns Act would need to look like and how the layering of European law would affect the process for adopting it.  Whilst the compensation regime will look different in some ways to the 1950s and 1960s approach, it will have to perform the same role – assembling land at scales and values that allow masterplanning and design excellence, using longer term land values to pay for the infrastructure, and a fund of part private/part public monies to meet the upfront costs of getting it done in return.  The process itself should learn the lessons of the doomed rush to Eco Towns and reflect the role that Community Interest Companies and other structures can play in providing a long term stake in making new places.

Turn up the volume, part 2

Meeting housing needs is now recognised as a national challenge (see Turn Up the Volume, Part 1).  Love or hate it, the Regional Strategy system was intended to force reluctant authorities’ hand on planning for large scale delivery.  The requirement to objectively assess needs is intended to have the same effect.  But it is only part of the solution, because delivering new places requires a multi agency approach and, fundamentally, a commitment to infrastructure delivery.  Assembling land at sensible values to prevent circular viability debates is also critical.

The NPPF has proved a sensible tool for delivering growth by appeal, which sometimes provides a convenient excuse for authorities for not making decisions.  The Duty to Co-operate is a good approach but is currently delivering punishment not success in the absence of a duty to agree.  If we are genuinely going to deliver the necessary number of new homes of over the next two decades, what reforms will be needed?

Reform on the cards

Labour has committed to a target of 200,000 new homes per year by 2020 if elected. There is loose talk of supplementing the duty to co-operate with a ‘right to grow’, intended to avoid delivery being mired in the same way as schemes like West Stevenage. The RICS wants the Bank of England to get involved. It may be that the political scales are nearing the point where the wrath for failing to meet needs will outweigh the ire for doing so.  Hence the fact that whilst Ministerial brief has shrunk, it is the Treasury and the Prime Minister making announcements on housing.

cartoon

Source: Inside Housing

The first structural change is a recognition in planning that private renting – and the potential for institutional investment in it – is a significant part of the solution.  Planning can be used to help create the commercial certainty to attract institutional investment, but PRS developers will need to provide a more persuasive model than cheap public land and affordable housing waivers.  How can development structuring using public land and long-term equity get the initial land values right for PRS models? How can affordable tenures – both their type and duration – be innovated to work within them?  What is the role for Registered Providers as part of consortia or place-makers in their own right? As CIL rates begin to hit student housing schemes, genuine PRS portfolios will have to prove themselves.  So the first change is that “objectively assessed needs” has to ensure that PRS requirements are identified and met.  The draft NPPG failed to address that issue which was a missed opportunity.

Three further suggestions for reform will follow in Part 3.

Turn up the volume

Despite political demotion, housing delivery is a key issue for planners, politicians and investors.  Residential yields are driving interest in mixed use schemes that have been dormant for years and in new products such as PRS (http://www.dentons.com/en/insights/articles/2012/november/12/if-you-build-it-will-they-come).

Going for gold

Three years ago (13 September 2010) the House of Commons Communities and Local Government Committee heard from Eric Pickles, Grant Shapps and Greg Clark on the abolition of the “crazy” Regional Strategies an action described by Shapps as “the greatest favour of getting homes built of any government since the last war“.  Building more homes each year than during the previous Government’s tenure would be the “gold standard upon which we shall be judged” he said.  There is a forecast 20% increase in new households to 2031 and planning will fail to meet identified needs if it delivers less than 240,000 per year, every year, for the next 20 years. This remains the Government’s current target, by 2016. So where are we now?

Mind the gap

A long way from the Gold Standard – 106,000 completions last year (9% down on the previous year).  The 2007 Calcutt Review concluded that the housebuilding industry would have to grow by nearly 5%, compounded, over the next decade to achieve the Government target. The pictures tell the story (see below).

shelter

(Prepared by Shelter)

England has a track record of housing reform to head off the social unrest that shadows overcrowding and dissatisfaction with place.  Since the announcement of the Government’s Gold Standard for delivering at least 240,000 new homes per year, housing has begun to assume even greater political significance.  Scarcity values, the diversion of national wealth to servicing mortgage debt and the restraint on home formation are ultimately a brake on the economy.

We have to double up delivery from today (and achieve an increase of 50% above recent peak delivery). That is a new Southwark delivered (not just consented) every year, or a new Birmingham (numbers-wise) every three. Assuming the private sector can deliver 130,000 homes every year, that still leaves an Exeter, 7 Hampstead Garden Suburbs or 2 Welwyn Garden Cities every year for two decades. Will Nick Boles’ vision of self builders delivering the gap be realised? You can, apparently, shoot him if he is still responsible in 2015.

The next blog on this topic will look at what reforms are needed to genuinely deliver against this volume of unmet need.