The Housing White Paper – “Fixing our Broken Housing Market”

February 9, 2017

By Peter Dixon

The long-awaited Housing White Paper was published on 7 February and carries not one but two forwards. The first, by the Prime Minister describes “our broken housing market” as “one of the greatest barriers to progress in Britain today”: the second, by the Secretary of State promises “radical, lasting reform that will get more homes built right now and for many years to come.”

The White Paper contains a package of measures involving new primary and secondary legislation and revisions to the National Planning Policy Framework (‘NPPF’) following consultation, whether on the White Paper itself (the consultation period extends to 2 May 2017) or separately.

The principal planning proposals include:

  • A series of revisions to the NPPF to tackle perceived weaknesses of the current plan-making system, notably in assessing housing need and in discharging the statutory duty to co-operate.  LPAs will be required to prepare Statements of Common Ground setting out how they will work together to meet housing requirements and other issues that cut across authority boundaries.  Plans will be required to be based upon a clear strategy to maximise the use of “suitable land” (with a presumption that brownfield land is suitable for housing) and to contain policies to support the delivery of small windfall sites. LPAs will be expected to accommodate the identified housing requirement in their areas unless policies in the NPPF provide strong reasons for not doing so or the adverse impacts of doing so would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits.
  • The Government is to consult “at the earliest opportunity” on options for a standardised methodology for objectively assessing housing need with the new methodology to apply as the baseline for assessing need from April 2018 onwards.
  • LPAs are to be required to plan proactively for land for new housing for rent where there is need.
  • Restrictions on the redevelopment of former employment land for housing are to be relaxed in order to enable more brownfield land to be released for development, particularly where it would permit a higher proportion of starter homes.
  • Regulations to require Local Plans to be reviewed “at least once every five years”
  • Amendments of the ‘soundness’ test and a simplification of the evidence base required for new Local Plans.
  • Spatial strategies prepared by combined authorities and metropolitan mayors will be permitted to allocate strategic development sites.
  • Incorporate a ‘housing delivery test’ into NPPF to be effective progressively from November 2017 in an attempt to ensure that LPAs that fail to meet their annual housing requirements catch-up by allocating further land or, in the cases of the most series shortfalls, face an automatic presumption in favour of housing on unallocated sites.

The White Paper also proposes reforms touching upon the Land Registry, restrictive covenants, compulsory purchase and developer contributions/CIL. The proposals include:

  • A re-statement of HM Land Registry’s aim for comprehensive land registration by 2030.  The Government is consult on improving the transparency of the contractual arrangements used for controlling land and on how they can be better reflected by the land register.
  • The promise of a draft bill to implement the Law Commission’s proposals for the reform of restrictive covenants.
  • A commitment to ‘roll out’ the strategic approach to licensing work affecting protected species piloted by Natural England and Woking Borough Council.
  •  A review of the relationship between developer contributions made under Section 106 Agreements and CIL with proposals to be published with the Autumn Statement in 2017.
  • A consultation on guidance on the use of compulsory purchase powers by LPAs to support housing development.
  •  Homes and Communities Agency to be ‘relaunched’ as Homes England.
  •  A consultation on a range of measures to tackle ‘unfair and unreasonable abuses’ of leasehold.

In his forward the Secretary of State says that his aim is “to build consensus for a new, positive mindset to housebuilding.”  Time will tell.