In almost all emerging local plans, there is a perceived problem meeting the need for private rented sector (PRS) housing. Part of the issue is a lack of imagination about the tools that are available. Although the following list is by no means complete, it may start a thinking process that, locally tailored, would help to deliver more homes of all types, while maintaining and securing mixed and balanced communities.
Where there is a PRS need, and it is viable, local planning authorities should consider:
- critically, as the NPPF suggests, allocating more market housing that can be used to support other housing requirements – never treating “need” figures as maximums;
- identifying sites that could be used exclusively for PRS;
- identifying suitable sites where a high proportion of any homes should be for PRS;
- having a policy that requires all residential developments to have a percentage of PRS;
- identifying sites that might not, in other circumstances, be developed for residential use (for example in another use or in the countryside) and allowing them to be developed provided that they are preserved for PRS over the long term;
- since the need for new homes is intrinsically linked to economic development, requiring new employment development to contribute towards the provision of PRS;
- if appropriate, and where robustly justified, having clear local plan criteria that allows PRS to be provided off site where this significantly increases the scale or quality of PRS being provided in a community;
- having a local plan policy that, exceptionally, allows financial contributions to be made to a PRS housing fund;
- using the PRS housing fund imaginatively to, for example, convert existing market homes to PRS use, particularly exploring the opportunities for new homes above and within our high streets and for the conversion of existing homes to create units that meet present PRS needs;
- where sites have been allocated then using CPO powers to make them available for PRS development, at a compensation value that reflects the new designation.
Clearly the same tool kit could also be used for affordable housing. Where there are sites with existing consents then perhaps the emergence of a new breed of local plan policies might give an incentive to build out, giving a softer transitional edge to some of the present “use it or lose it” rhetoric. Given the publication of the Mayor’s Housing Strategy on Monday it is clear that far more needs to be done to help deliver housing. Being a bit more adventurous with the planning tool kit would be a good start.