When I met Sajid Javid last night, he was relaxed in anticipation of his big day today.
The linking theme in the White Paper is Britain’s low rate of housebuilding, with the carrot and the stick both used to increase it. Carrots include a change in planning policy to encourage higher densities on urban sites. The Government is careful that higher densities does not necessarily mean taller buildings and there is a hint of lower space standards.
Councils have always found making planning policy a neverending cycle; under the White Paper they will have to review housing targets every five years. Since the abolition of national and regional housing targets, councils have faced difficult decisions (and local political dispute) over how many homes to propose, knowing that the wrong number may result in their plan being ruled unsustainable and then losing control over development. The White Paper’s solution is a standardised national approach to working out how many homes they need. The process of making plans is set for change with the intention of making it simpler.
For all the media coverage over Green Belt development, there is only two thirds of a page in the White Paper about it, and no significant changes proposed.
Sticks being sharpened to force housing delivery include a new consideration in planning policy of whether a permission is deliverable; there’s a consultation on whether councils can take account of the individual developer’s track record. Also being considered are cutting the time for implementing a permission from three years to two. If developments stall, the government want councils to think about compulsory purchase.
To help promote delivery, the Government wants to diversify the housing market, and the White Paper is now clear that Build to Rent is encouraged for councils and investors. New PRS homes may see longer tenancies of up to three years, accepting that a form of tenure designed for mobile young people in the 1980s is now permanent housing for families.
This is part of a subtle shift away from promoting ownership at all costs, and towards rented housing. Starter homes, which were the big idea introduced only last year, are now downplayed in favour of “a wider range of affordable housing”.
For all the changes in the White Paper, Labour’s response “Is this it?” has a point – changes are evolutionary and shifts in policy are subtle. That may be because changes in the housing market don’t occur overnight and new policies always take years to filter through. Secretaries of State need to be relaxed but determined.