Councils are set to receive greater powers to seize land and approve large-scale housebuilding as part of government plans to tackle Britain’s homes shortage and create a generation of garden towns.
The Conservatives are considering including legislation to grant the powers in next week’s Queen’s Speech, which will outline their programme for the coming parliamentary year.
George Osborne first outlined the planning reform in the small print of his Budget two months ago. Up to 100,000 homes could be created in a “new wave of garden towns and cities”, with “garden villages and market towns” in smaller areas, Budget documents said.
At the time the chancellor pledged to “legislate to make it easier for local authorities to work together to create new garden towns”, promising them “planning and financial flexibilities”.
The Budget also proposed to beef up compulsory purchase powers, which enable councils and other government bodies to forcibly take control of land.
The government intended to “make the CPO process clearer, fairer and quicker”, the Budget documents said.
A consultation document published after the Budget proposed simplifying the rules on compensation for property owners whose land or building is subject to a compulsorily purchase order, expanding the CPO powers of transport bodies, and making it easier for bodies with such powers to temporarily requisition land or buildings.
Transport for London is set to be given power to finance infrastructure projects from increases in the value of land it owns, including land that had been compulsorily purchased, the Budget documents suggested. Selling valuable land off to developers could finance ambitious projects such as “fly-under” tunnels, Mr Osborne proposed.
The Tories face a tricky task to balance their pledge to build 1m homes by 2020 with a commitment to devolution. Many MPs and conservation campaigners feel it is too easy for developers to override local people’s wishes, which are set out in documents known as neighbourhood plans.
In an attempt to assuage those fears, Westminster is likely to seek to give local people a greater say in the planning of new towns and suburbs.
The move marks a shift in Conservative thinking: the Liberal Democrats championed plans for a new generation of garden cities in the previous coalition government but the Tories blocked it after running into grassroots opposition.
Brandon Lewis, the housing minister, declined to comment on whether a planning bill would be announced next week but said the government wanted to “speed up the local planning system” and “do more on neighbourhood planning”.
Speaking in the House of Commons earlier this week Mr Lewis said he was looking at how to beef up local communities’ ability to influence the planning process, and committed to “ensure that neighbourhood plans enjoy the primacy that we intend them to have in planning law”.
Councils are concerned that government policy is not enabling them to deliver genuinely affordable housing
A large majority of councils are unhappy with the planning regime, according to researchers. Nearly three-quarters of councils said it hinders the construction of affordable housing, while just 7 per cent said the government’s flagship policy of starter homes would help to address the housing shortage, the research by the Association for Public Service Excellence and the Town and Country Planning Association found.
Some 96 per cent of the 116 councils surveyed said there was a “moderate or severe” need for more affordable housing in their area.
Kate Henderson, TCPA chief executive, said the housing market was facing “a real crisis”.
“Councils are concerned that government policy is not enabling them to deliver genuinely affordable housing,” she said.