Whtehall to Force Through Housing Plans in Planning and Housing Bill

FT

The government will introduce new powers to overrule councils which are reluctant to build homes, in a move which could put prime minister David Cameron on a collision course with his party’s shire heartlands.

The move will enable Whitehall to bypass councils and work directly with local communities to identify land for new building and force housing schemes through the planning system.

The measure will be included in the housing and planning bill published this week which the government regards as a landmark moment in tackling the housing shortage and Mr Cameron has described as a “national crusade to get homes built”.

He aims to see 1m new homes constructed by 2020 — an average of 200,000 a year. Last year Britain built 141,000 new homes.

“Everyone must play their part,” Mr Cameron said. “Councils have a key role to play in this. But if they fail to act, we’ll work with local people to produce a plan for them.”

Around two-thirds of councils have drawn up ‘local plans’ which set out where they will house the increase in population they face in the coming years. England is projected to grow by 7 per cent to 57.3m people by 2022, while London will rise 13 per cent to 9.4m.

But one in five local authorities have not taken any action, according to Whitehall data.

“We are not just going to sit back and shrug our shoulders on this,” a government source said. “Everyone recognises there is a great need for new housing to be built. We are willing to step in and work with local people.”

The move is likely to cause particular controversy in the protected ‘greenbelt’ around London and across the south-east of England, where decades of undersupply combined with sustained population increases and economic prosperity have pushed house prices sharply upwards.

The government hopes to mitigate tensions in greenbelt areas by relaxing planning rules for brownfield sites. New housing schemes on brownfield land will get automatic approval in principle as part of the bill, meaning developers will only need to negotiate over the detail of their plans.

The bill will also introduce a new legal duty on councils to allocate land for starter homes. Mr Cameron heralded the homes — available for first-time buyers at a 20 per cent discount to their market value — at last week’s Conservative party conference, saying they would turn young people “from Generation Rent to Generation Buy”.

Chancellor George Osborne also played up his housing credentials as he repeatedly insisted to delegates: “We are the builders.”

“We’ve had enough of people who own their own home lecturing others why they can’t own one too,” he said.

Another measure will make a temporary 2013 relaxation in planning rules permanent. The policy makes it easier for developers to convert offices into housing, but has been criticised by business leaders and London mayor Boris Johnson for contributing to a shortage of workspace for companies.

The government recently reached an agreement with housing associations to extend the Right To Buy to 1.3m of their tenants — a pre-election manifesto pledge for the Tories, who had faced strong opposition from social landlords over the measure.

The first housing association tenants are set to buy their homes through the scheme next year.

 

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