The Housing White Paper, weighing in at 104 pages, is a clear statement of intent from the Government.
It is a consultation – so there are plenty of proposals that are not yet set in stone. While there were some technical points, the broad tone of the Paper was clear – policymakers are willing to roll up their sleeves and get down to the detail of what is needed to boost development.
There was also a recognition of the range of tenures in the housing market, and support of all of these, marking a slight change in direction from the recent focus solely on homeownership.
However, there is limited scope for a housing policy document to grapple with some of the more political problems that face the development market, such as local resistance to development.
As Justin Gaze, joint head of residential development at Knight Frank, also points out, development is just one part of the wider ‘broken’ housing market.
He says: “The White Paper is a comprehensive report. It illustrates an understanding, which has been arguably a little lacking in some recent policy and legislation, that all parts of the development market are interdependent, and that they can, and will, affect each other and ultimately the number of homes being built.
“The importance of development in established and sustainable locations already well-served by infrastructure where there is a high housing need shouldn’t be overlooked. But the fundamental tension between the need for new homes and the resistance to development seen in some communities is unlikely to be completely unravelled by the suggestions in this report.
“While we await the outcome of the consultation to the White Paper, it is worth remembering that the development market is just one part of the wider housing market that the Government calls ‘broken’. The pressure on the delivery of new homes, which make up less than 1% of housing stock annually, is emphasised in a market where the availability of second-hand stock to buy is so constrained, a trend which is exacerbated by the current stamp duty regime.”
Some of the key announcements/proposals include:
- A new method for Local Authorities to calculate ‘housing need’ tests to check if enough homes are delivered
- Identifying who owns what land (with ultimate aim of all landowners being identified by 2030)
- Releasing more public sector land
- Monitoring build-out rates by large developers
- Looking at reducing planning permissions from 3 years to 2 years
- Allowing LAs to step in on stalled sites to make a compulsory purchase, in order to auction land off to another developer
- A focus on the delivery all types of Affordable Housing
- A target of 10% of Affordable Housing for homeownership on development sites
- Support through the planning framework for the delivery of Build-to-Rent schemes (large-scale investments in the rental sector)
- Supporting custom-build housing and encouraging modern methods of construction (modular building)
- Supporting Housing Authorities and Local Authorities (Council Housing) to build more homes
- Review of CIL levy on development (with a view to reform)
- Starter Homes will be launched for First-time Buyers with a mortgage aged under 40. There will be a 15-year tapered period before the homes can be sold on without a discount (revised from 5 years) and only available to households with an income of £80,000 or less (£90,000 in London)
- There will be discussions about the support for buyers of new-build homes after 2021 (when Help to Buy Equity Loan due to end)
There was much discussion in the press about the Greenbelt, but the Paper merely re-states the status quo, that is that all other avenues must be investigated before planning will be granted for Greenbelt land (which may in fact be brownfield) – although in line with a 2015 consultation, there may be more leeway for developments with a high proportion of Starter Homes.
It was refreshing to see the Government’s clear admission that after several years of announcements and re-announcements on Starter Homes, with little policy detail, it has decided to do a volte-face and concentrate its efforts instead on all forms of Affordable Housing. This leaves no room for doubt, and means developers and planning authorities can now progress with more clarity.
In essence, this document is a consultation so there are still a lot of questions to be answered. But in many respects, the right questions are being asked.