Select Committee on Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Memoranda


Memorandum by Town & Country Planning Association (TCPA) (HOU 40)

1.  INTRODUCTION

  1.1  In 2001 the Town & Country Planning Association (TCPA) published Housing Demand and Need in England 1996 to 2016[23], which updated the Government's latest projections (based on 1996 data) with projections based on 1998 population data—projections which have not yet been updated by the ODPM. The TCPA was delighted that the Joseph Rowntree Foundation subsequently took up many of the elements of this work in their milestone report Land for Housing[24] and that the Urban Affairs Committee has seen fit to investigate this issue. The TCPA welcomes the opportunity to contribute to this investigation.

  1.2  The TCPA campaigns inter alia for the reform of the UK planning system to promote public participation and sustainable development and for environment and development policies which improve the living and working conditions of everyone. Amongst the TCPA's objectives is "a decent home in a good environment for everyone who needs it". The Association believes the UK is a long way from achieving this aim.

  1.3  In addition to the publication of the Housing Demand and Need report, the TCPA also carried out the recently published study for the then DETR, The Delivery of Affordable Housing Through Planning Policy[25], with Entec, Nottingham Trent University and Three Dragons Consultancy.

2.  WHETHER THE FUNDS IN THE COMPREHENSIVE SPENDING REVIEW WILL ACHIEVE THE GOVERNMENT'S TARGET OF A DECENT HOME FOR EVERYONE BY 2010

  2.1  The level of funding for social housing has been increased in recent years by the present Government, however the TCPA believes that the scale of the increase is insufficient to address the scale of the need. In 1990 the overall level of funding for affordable housing was £11 billion whereas the Comprehensive Spending Review 2002 agreed to increase funding only to £5 billion. As a result the nation builds approximately one fifth the number of affordable houses per year now that it did 10 years ago.

  2.2  The level of underprovision of affordable housing was calculated for a TCPA publication at approximately 60,000 units per year by Dr Alan Holmans (See endnote 24). If the increase in funding levels yields increases in social housing units of a similar proportion a further 8,000 to 9,000 units might be secured (in addition to the 33,000 per year currently being completed) making little impact on the scale of need.

  2.3  The TCPA therefore supports several measures to increase the supply of affordable housing:

    —  additional funding to restore social housing provision to the 1990 level;

    —  restrictions placed on the right to buy particularly to ensure that a proportion of the small amount of newly built council housing will remain in public ownership in perpetuity. The right to buy for existing stock should also be reviewed.

    —  comprehensive major developments led by accountable public sector agencies tasked with the delivery of major new communities including significant concentrations of new housing;

    —  selective acquisition of land by public bodies as part of a strategy to bring forward comprehensive developments (while recognising that private and social housing providers will need to deliver the bulk of the requirement); and

    —  a national planning framework with attention focusing on major transport links and other measures to address the regional imbalance in housing supply.

3.  HOW SPENDING OF THE NEW RESOURCES SHOULD BE BALANCED BETWEEN SOCIAL HOUSING AND OPTIONS FOR OWNER OCCUPATION FOR THOSE WHO CANNOT AFFORD TO BUY (INCLUDING SHARED OWNERSHIP) AND THE MECHANISMS TO BE USED FOR THEIR DISTRIBUTION

  3.1  Both housing associations and private sector house builders are interested in providing "intermediate market housing" particularly for key public sector workers. Public funding should be available for these types of initiatives as well as for low cost home ownership. There should however be proper safeguards to ensure that either properties remain "affordable" in perpetuity or that any funds generated from their resale are channelled back into additional affordable housing provision. Subsidising market housing is not advocated by the TCPA.

  3.2  Social housing providers, rather than the TCPA are better placed to advise on policy on funding distribution across different housing tenures.

4.  THE ROLE OF PLANNING OBLIGATIONS IN PROVIDING AFFORDABLE HOUSING

  4.1  New privately constructed housing as a whole accounts for only one eleventh of all available housing, thus any proportion of this which is secured as affordable housing (through planning obligations) is likely to be small beer compared to the scale of need. Indeed the Joseph Rowntree Foundation believes that a maximum of 15,000 units can be provided this way and recognises that such a figure is likely to be an overestimate since many houses provided through planning gain have already been counted as a contribution to affordable housing need when they received Housing Support Grant.

  4.2  The TCPA/Entec study (See endnote 25) investigated "The Delivery of Affordable Housing through Planning Policy" for the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. The TCPA supports the conclusions and recommendations reached as follows:

    —  The definition of affordable made by local authorities was not consistent with a tendency, particularly in the south, not to consider the full range of alternatives to social rented housing. Therefore a clearer definition is needed.

    —  Local authorities are not following Government advice on Housing Needs Assessments.

    —  There is pressure to reduce the threshold (on the size of development) at which the inclusion of an element of affordable housing is required, but conversely many rural authorities are reluctant to do so.

    —  The Section 106 (planning gain) agreement process needs to be clearer with draft agreements being put to Planning Committees at the time of granting planning permission.

    —  Better understanding of development economics is needed within planning authorities.

    —  That authorities can provide a list of Registered Social Landlords, with whom they work, to developers but that deadlocks that frustrate development must be avoided.

    —  Commuted payments to local authorities by developers in lieu of providing affordable housing on site should equate with the cost of actual provision and sanctions should exist for repayment should the sums not be used appropriately.

    —  There is a need for better collaborative working between housing and planning departments.

5.  THE EFFECTIVENESS OF THE HOUSING MARKET RENEWAL FUND IN TACKLING HOUSING NEEDS IN AREAS WITH LOW DEMAND

  5.1  The housing market renewal fund is a welcome initiative to address the problems of low demand, however small scale investment in geographically confined areas is unlikely to reverse market trends across whole towns and communities. In concert with measures to invest in improving/replacing existing stock, the TCPA believes that the release of more attractive sites for housing development (often on the edge of towns) will be needed to assist the process. Newcastle City Council has effectively linked new development towards the outskirts of the town to its city centre regeneration strategy in this way.

6.  HOW THE QUALITY OF NEW AFFORDABLE HOUSING CAN BE ENSURED AND THE POOR DESIGN OF PREVIOUS HOUSEBUILDING PROGRAMMES AVOIDED

  6.1  The qualities of most concern to ordinary people in their homes include the provision of a garden, decent room and space standards, low maintenance and attractive design. The TCPA also believes that the environmental sustainability of new homes is crucial and has established a sustainable housing Forum to raise standards in this area. In particular, new housing should all be constructed to the best practice standards of insulation and energy efficiency, but in addition future use of concepts such as solar rights for householders should be considered. New housing and other development should also be constructed as part of wider strategy across local authority areas to reduce carbon dioxide emissions within relevant carbon envelopes. The TCPA also believes in the return of statutory minimum standards for open spaces and room sizes and deplores the fact that there is no legal minimum size for a habitable room such as a bedroom. Improvements in visual design quality will require better training and expertise in local authority planning departments.



23   Holmans, A (2001) Housing Demand and Need in England 1996-2016, TCPA & NHF. Back

24   Barlow J, et al (2002) Land for Housing: Current Practice and Future Options: JRF. Back

25   DETR (2001) The Delivery of Affordable Housing Through Planning Policy: Entec, Nottingham Trent University, TCPA, Three Dragons. Back


 
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