Prime Minister’s speech on housing and the NPPF

housing crisis

The Prime Minister’s speech this morning about the changes to the planning system have received an understandably mooted response from the industry. She made promises to tackle the housing crisis, calling upon housebuilders to ‘do their duty’ and ‘stop sitting on land and start building houses’ and ‘restore the dream’ of home ownership.

Many of the provisions outlined by Theresa May were discussed in detail by the MHCLG ministerial team which attended the Conservative Councillors’ Association (CCA) conference in Warwickshire on Friday. Despite a weather-hit attendance, Heather Wheeler MP and Rishi Sunak MP joined Secretary of State, Sajid Javid MP, for a full Q&A session at the conference during which much of what the Prime Minister said in her speech this morning was detailed.

There were few new provisions in the speech that had not already been announced in the Housing White Paper. The 300,000 new homes per year target was reiterated, and there was some back-patting for having got to 217,000 new homes last year. This is the largest number of new homes for over a decade, which the industry should be proud of and take credit.

The housing delivery test would be introduced to ensure councils are delivering the right number and types of homes. Developers would also fall under the microscope of delivery with past records impacting on future planning applications.

Criticism of developers ‘land banking’ has continued unabated. It was covered at the CCA conference, included in Theresa May’s speech, and previously both Sir Nick Boles MP and Clive Betts MP have accused the industry of hoarding. The topic was discussed on the Radio 4 Today programme this morning, where the industry defended its position unconvincingly through Andrew Whittaker from the Home Builders Federation.

Although we all know the majority of developers do not land bank, they can’t afford to, the industry is losing the public and political debate. There is a perception with politicians and the public is that they do, sitting on consented land letting it grow in value and maximise profits instead of building much needed new homes.

And when they do start building, developers bring in viability arguments to reduce the number of affordable homes provided and other infrastructure requirements. May says councils will be greater teeth to challenge these viability arguments.

Now is the time for the industry to be stepping up and defending its record and performance, placing the delays between consent and construction firmly at the door of the planning system and local councils. Oliver Letwin MP is reviewing this whole area and will report later in the year: it presents an opportunity for the industry to set the record straight.

In the meantime, a consultation on changes to the NPPF has started, and will conclude on 10th May.