Councils must provide plan for new home building in UK, says landmark housing bill

Councils in the UK must produce local plans for new homes in their area by 2017 or the government will ensure, in consultation with local people, that plans are produced for them.

Under a new Housing and Planning Bill the government sets out its ambition that one million homes will be delivered by 2020, including starter homes for first time buyers.

However, while 82% of councils have published local plans which should set out how many homes they plan to deliver over a set period only 65% have fully adopted them, and there are still almost 20% of councils that do not have an up to date plan at all.

The Prime Minister David Cameron has now made it clear that he expects all councils to create and deliver local plans by the deadline. The Bill also spells out a series of further proposals to boost home building and home ownership.

This includes a new legal duty on councils to guarantee the delivery of Starter Homes on all reasonably sized new development sites, and to promote the scheme to first time buyers in their area.

The government also announced that local authorities will be able to bid for a share of a £10 million Starter Homes fund, part of a £36 million package to accelerate the delivery of starter homes by helping councils prepare brownfield sites that would otherwise not be built for starter homes.

Under the new legislation there will be automatic planning permission in principle on brownfield sites to build as many homes as possible while protecting the green belt and other planning reforms to support small builders such as placing a new duty on councils to help allocate land to people who want to build their own home.

In other boosts for house building, Cameron also announced that a temporary rule introduced in May 2013 allowing people to convert disused offices into homes without applying for planning permission will be made a permanent change after almost 4,000 conversions were given the go ahead between April 2014 to June this year.

A new website has just been launched which allows prospective home owners to go online to www.ownyourhome.gov.uk to see what government schemes are available to open doors for them.

‘The government will do everything it can to help people buy a place of their own and at the heart of this is our ambition to build one million new homes by 2020. Many areas are doing this already but we need a national crusade to get homes built and everyone must play their part,’ said Cameron.

He explained that councils have a key role to play in this by drawing up their own local plans for new homes by 2017. ‘If they fail to act, we’ll work with local people to produce a plan for them,’ he added.

Officials pointed out that the latest announcement builds on the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) which was introduced in 2012 as a way of cutting back on red tape and endless planning documents. In their local plans councils are required to produce an annual trajectory of how many homes they plan to build in their area, usually over a period of around 15 years. They must also be reviewed regularly, usually every five years, and give local people more of a say on where new developments go and what they look like.

Before March 2012 the average number of homes planned for by local authorities stood at 573 per year. Local plans published after the reforms containing on average 717 homes per year, a 25% increase. Details of how best to intervene when councils have failed to get started on their plans will be published shortly.

Jeremy Blackburn, head of policy at the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), said that enforcing local plans and measures to speed up delivery on brownfield sites are things surveyors have long called for.

‘It is good to see these now coming forward in the Bill. Some sites have been locked up for too long and these measures, coupled with a brownfield register and fund, will get them moving. While these new measures build on the National Planning Policy Framework and are welcome, the system needs to really pick up speed in order to deliver the vibrant property sector on which the success of our economy depends,’ he explained.

‘The real objective here is meeting the housing challenge, or crusade as the Prime Minister put it, where we need to build across all tenures. Dispute resolution for S106 agreements will help unlock many schemes stuck in negotiation, and we look forward to working with government to implement this service. We must combine this with wider measures to increase the supply of affordable and rented properties via councils and housing associations,’ he added.

Melanie Leech, chief executive of the British Property Federation, described it as one of the most important Bills before Parliament. ‘Measures to ensure local plans be put in place by 2017 will bring much needed certainty for potential investors and provide a catalyst for growth. Our members focus on brownfield opportunities and so measures that bring more land forward will also be warmly supported,’ she said.

‘We support the government’s vision for starter homes and the intention to give first time buyers a step up. We are also squarely behind the government’s efforts to raise standards in the private rented sector, which goes to the heart of our own Build to Rent initiative,’ she added.