Government strategy to fix a 'broken housing market'
Theresa May’s government has set out its housing strategy with a wide-ranging set of proposals that promise to shake up a ‘broken housing market’ where just ten housebuilders build around 60% of all new homes.
With action promised to bring smaller developers into housing development, the White Paper puts volume house builders on notice that they must speed up their build out rate or potentially lose their undeveloped land.
The government has promised guidelines for local authorities that will encourage the use of compulsory purchase powers for unacceptably slow development due to land banking or simply slow construction.
House builders will also be required to provide more information on delivery up front about the timing of developments, and could see a poor record of past delivery become a planning consideration that could see them refused permission.
Local authorities will face their own Housing Delivery Test and will face sanctions for failing to meet local housing targets, including compulsory identification of additional housing land as a penalty. A new standard assessment method for assessing housing need will be introduced that Communities Secretary Sajid Javid says will transform local plans.
The government, meanwhile, has abandoned its own plan to require 20% of new homes on all but the smallest of sites to be Starter Homes. Instead, 10% of homes on all sites will have to be ‘affordable’ home ownership products, with local authorities given discretion over the number of Starter Homes that will be required.
Responding to the Housing White Paper, RIBA President Elect Ben Derbyshire said: ‘For at least three decades, governments of all parties have failed to make the big decisions needed to properly tackle the housing crisis.
‘This government must make the necessary step-change and recognise in actions, as well as words, the importance of well-designed homes for garnering community support and ensuring the houses we build today are affordable, sustainable and suitable for future generations.’
Derbyshire said the more openness from developers was to be commended, but criticised the lack of any proposals to go further and make viability assessments public.
There is also concern over the Government’s intention to review the Nationally Described Space Standard.
‘Where the standard has been implemented, we have seen the trend for smaller homes reverse, bedrooms increase to usable size and greatly improved storage provision. Removing or weakening the standard at this time would disrupt the industry as a whole, including the housebuilders who have spent a great deal of time gearing up for it, and the local authorities who have been through costly Local Plan revisions to implement it,’ Derbyshire said.
The RIBA welcomed proposals to tackle land banking, which Derbyshire says remains one of the biggest barriers to development, and the proposals to require local authorities to release more land for housing.
The President Elect said the White Paper was generally positive on recognising the value of good design and gave the RIBA’s backing for greater use of housing design codes.
‘I am pleased that the Government has recognised the value of good design in winning local support for new developments,’ Derbyshire said.
‘The proposed use of area-wide design codes is a proposal the RIBA has long supported. Areas which have already developed and adopted design codes are amongst the most successful at building new homes. We hope that more parts of the country will take up this mechanism and work with architects, planners and other experts to draw up proposals which reflect local priorities.’
Chair of the RIBA Housing Group Julia Park welcomed the shift away from home ownership towards support for housing of all tenures as a significant move, and said the Government was right to pull back on the 20% quota of Starter Homes. But she was disappointed that the government had not gone further to enable local authorities to meet housing need.
‘The promise to empower local authorities seems to be little more than requiring realistic needs assessments. And those who were hoping for a further increase in borrowing power will be disappointed,’ Park said.
‘Everyone wants more housing but it has to be supported by new schools, hospitals and shops - it needs to be good, and it needs to last, or we’ll face a worse problem in fifty years’ time’.
Thanks to Ben Derbyshire, RIBA President Elect; Julia Park, Head of Housing Research, Levitt Bernstein.
Text by Neal Morris.
Published on 8 February 2017.