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Government will force councils to build homes in radical planning law shake-up

Government will force councils to build homes in radical planning law shake-up

🕔10.Jul 2015

The Government is preparing to override local councils and intervene in planning decisions in an attempt to improve Britain’s poor house building record.

In what may be regarded by some as a controversial centralising move, Chancellor George Osborne declared that the UK has been “incapable” of building enough homes to meet the needs of working people and set out radical measures to force the pace of development.

Ministers will get powers to seize disused land, while major housing projects could be fasttracked.

Speaking in Birmingham, Mr Osborne accompanied by business Secretary Sajid Javid launched a Productivity Plan which he described as the second half of his Budget and unveiled sweeping changes to planning laws:

  • A new zonal system which will give automatic planning permission on all suitable brownfield sites, removing unnecessary delays to re-development.
  • Power for the Government to intervene and have local plans drafted setting out how housing needs will be met when local authorities fail to produce them and penalties for those that make 50 per cent or fewer planning decisions on time.
  • Stronger compulsory purchase powers to bring forward more brownfield land, and devolution of planning powers to the Mayors of London and Manchester.
  • The right for major infrastructure projects which include elements of housing development to be fast-tracked through the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Regime (NSIP).
  • Requiring higher-density development around key commuter hubs.
  • Extending Right-to-Buy to Housing Association tenants and to delivering 200,000 new starter homes.
  • A major package to support SME housebuilders, including new sanctions for local authorities not processing smaller planning applications on time, with earlier fee refunds.

New powers to intervene and force councils to approve local plans setting house building targets are seen by the Government as a crucial factor in addressing the housing shortage. Although all councils are supposed to come forward with local housing plans many have failed to do so because of the controversy surrounding development in sensitive areas.

The changes could see Government intervention in Birmingham where the city council says about 120,000 new homes are needed by 2031. But brownfield land available inside the city boundary will accommodate no more than 50,000 dwellings.

The council wants to build 5,000 homes in the Sutton Coldfield green belt and is also talking to Worcestershire, Staffordshire and Warwickshire councils about new homes across the Birmingham border, particularly in Bromsgrove where 1,000 acres of green belt is threatened.

The Chancellor said productivity is “the challenge of our time” and would be a key priority for the Government after the exceptional success in boosting employment in recent years. While employment is around record levels and has risen by two million since 2010, productivity – simply, economic output per worker per hour – has persistently lagged behind other major economies.

Matching the productivity of the US would increase GDP by 31 per cent, the equivalent of £21,000 a year for every household in the UK.

Narrowing the gap even a little, so that trend growth is raised by just 0.1 per cent, would mean the UK economy would be £35 billion larger in 2030 – approximately £1,100 extra for every household.

A 90-page blueprint called ‘Fixing the Foundations: Creating a more prosperous nation’ sets out proposals to address Britain’s long-term productivity problem and secure rising living standards and a better quality of life for its citizens.

It includes detailed proposals for higher education, transport, trade, devolution of power to cities and regions, skills, long-term investment, tax, digital and science.

On planning and housebuilding, the document argues that a more effective land and housing market will promote productivity by enabling the economy to adapt to change – helping people to live and own homes close to where they want to work and firms to locate where they can be most efficient and create jobs.

Mr Osborne denied that the new powers could threaten the green belt:

Britain has been incapable of building enough homes. The reforms we made to the planning system in the last parliament have started to improve the situation: planning permissions and housing starts are at a seven-year high.

But we need to go further and I am not prepared to stand by when people who want to get on the housing ladder can’t do so. We’ll keep on protecting the green belt, but these latest planning reforms are a vital part of a comprehensive plan to confront the challenge of our lifetime and raise productivity and living standards.

This will not be achieved overnight and will require a truly national effort by government, business and working people. But with this productivity plan, I believe that we have taken the vital first step towards securing the prosperity and a livelihoods of generations to come.

Mr Javid said:

This plan lays the foundations for a stronger future. Every part of government will be involved. Under-supply of housing pushes up house prices in many areas and means millions of people can’t live and work where they want to, or even own their own home. We are absolutely determined to see more planning permissions granted and more houses built.

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