Memorandum by The House Builders Federation
THE PLANNING GREEN PAPER
The House Builders Federation is the trade association
that represents private sector house builders in England and Wales.
Our members account for 80 per cent of new homes built each year.
HBF believes that reform of the planning system is key to ensuring
that everyone has access to a decent home and to support economic
growth and prosperity.
In 2001, there were 162,000 housing completions
in Great Britainthe lowest peacetime level since 1924.
This low level of new housing provision must be set against increasing
household growth, the result of deep-seated social and demographic
changes and international migration.
In 1981 there were approximately 4 per cent
more dwellings than households in England, just sufficient to
provide a home for every household and leave a margin for vacant
dwellings. In the last 20 years, household growth has exceeded
expansion of the housing stock, so the surplus had fallen to 0.2
per cent by 2000. The situation in the South is particularly acute:
in 2000 there were 4.2 per cent fewer homes in London than households
and 1.4 per cent fewer homes than households in the South East.
New households in England are being created
at a rate of approximately 200,000 per year, with new dwellings
built at a rate of around 140,000 per year. As a result not everyone
who wants a home can be accommodated. The supply of dwellings
is not meeting demand, and without a greatly improved planning
system this situation is set to worsen for the foreseeable future.
The effects of this long-term under-investment
in housing are already being felt. The widening gap between supply
and demand leads to ever-increasing prices, particularly in economically
buoyant areas such as London and the South East. This limits labour
mobility and has an inflationary impact on wages. As housing becomes
more expensive the young and those on low to moderate incomes
are left with little housing choice.
Housing has a vital contribution to make to
the economy. It contributes to social cohesion, helps create stable
and safe communities and, when planned effectively, can assist
sustainable development. Like the railways and the NHS, it cannot
be turned round by short bursts of unsustained investment or quick
fixes. It needs long-term investment and political commitment
backed up by efficiency created through an effective planning
In this context the recognition by Government
of the need for reform of the planning system is welcome, as is
the shared commitment to bring greater simplicity, speed, predictability
and customer focus to the system.
The fundamental concern of house builders is
that the planning system releases enough land in the right place
at the right time to ensure the opportunity of a decent home for
There remains concern that without greater clarification
on the respective roles of the proposed regional, sub-regional
and local plans it is uncertain whether the proposed system will
achieve this fundamental objective.
HBF supports the principle of Regional Spatial
Strategies (RSS) and the objectives for such strategies as set
out in the planning green paper. The processes set out in the
current PPG11 are directly transferable to the production of these
strategies, thus ensuring consistency with the existing regional
planning guidance. Similarly, HBF does not object to the abolition
of county-based structure plans.
However, there is great concern within the house
building industry that the gap between RSSs and Local Development
Frameworks (LDFs) is too great to ensure that housing numbers,
set at the regional level, are accepted by local planning authorities
as legitimate and appropriate sites are identified. Put simply,
it is unclear how the new system will distribute regional housing
requirements to individual local authorities and ensure they are
In the absence of elected regional assemblies
it is vital that Government provides a strong steer to regions
on the required level of housing provision. This will ensure that
new housing has both political legitimacy and is seen as vital
in achieving national policy objectives. The regional planning
body must in turn distribute housing provision figures for sub-regions
(based either on county or urban catchment areas). It is at this
level where sub-regional strategies will be essential in ensuring
that responsibility for housing provision is not lost in the new
system. Stronger guidance from Government is essential.
The HBF agrees with a number of the criticisms
of the current arrangements for area-wide local plans. In particular
the current system is overly complex, and inconsistent. Plans
are too long and inflexible and preparation timetables are too
An LDF that contains only core policies that
establish criteria against which development proposals are considered
would be shorter and less complex than current requirements for
structure plans and local plans. However, the plan-led system,
which the Government remains committed to, must provide certainty
for both developers and communities about what is planned for
a particular area.
HBF is concerned that a Local Development Framework
(LDF) that does not specifically identify land for development,
and is subject to constant review, will be unable to provide this
level of certainty.
House builders are particularly concerned that
the proposed planning system will fail to deliver enough land
for development, and will be less comprehensible to those wishing
to develop and for local communities who rightly want to know
where development and change will occur. A constantly changing
strategy will fail to deliver the certainty that developers need.
This is particularly true in regeneration areas where developers
and other investors need the confidence of continued local authority
support. Constant review and change of political will may jeopardise
If LDFs are to be successful they must establish
the long-term vision for an area and should be adopted for a minimum
of three years. If action plans are to provide the same level
of certainty and clarity as the current system of local plans
then action plans must be produced speedily and in conjunction
In addition action plans must be adopted for
a realistic period if they are to achieve their objectives. In
some instances, for example large-scale regeneration or the establishment
of a sustainable urban extension, this might be for a period of
10 years with review only occurring where monitoring indicates
that a particular project is not achieving the aims and objectives
of the plan.
There remains considerable concern that many
local authorities will be keen to adopt their LDF, and establish
principles for development in their administrative area, but will
be reluctant to undertake the more politically difficult site
or area specific action plans. Without the political will from
local authorities, backed by the appropriate mix of skills and
resources, there is significant danger that action plans will
suffer similar delays to the current local plan procedures. If
local authorities fail to maintain the new planning frameworks
real incentives, sanctions and penalties must be utilised.
An effective planning system would ensure certainty
for business and the public whilst at the same time delivering
speedy decisions. A number of concerns have already been raised
regarding the extent to which the major changes proposed to development
plans will achieve these aims.
However, discussions within the broader business
community have identified additional areas of common concern.
Perhaps the most fundamental worry is what happens to the planning
system during the interim period between the publication of the
green paper and the eventual introduction of a new planning system.
Ministers must ensure that local authorities continue to produce
local and structure plans and that these are "mapped"
onto the new structures. Without continuity in the development
plan framework there is significant risk of paralysis, with no
clear and coherent basis on which to make decisions. In addition,
many of the Government's proposals do not require primary legislation
and should be implemented immediately.
House builders support the principle of improving
public participation in the planning system. However, it must
be recognised that to achieve national objectives, such as meeting
household growth, there must be clearer standards on participation
to limit the ability of single-issue pressure groups to oppose
development. Consensus is not always possible.
Therefore to ensure that public engagement does
not lengthen planning timetables, whilst simultaneously failing
to achieve consensus, it is important that Government retains
independent scrutiny. Public examination of plans ensures visibility
of the public in the scrutiny of local authorities plan preparation.
In addition, if independent scrutiny is to both effectively engage
the public and ensure certainty then the decisions of the independent
chair or inspector should be made binding.
The gulf of understanding between house builders
and planning professionals is a significant problem. The promotion
of positive planning requires long-term cultural change in the
planning service, an issue that is not adequately addressed in
the reform package. In addition, positive planning will require
local planning authorities to acquire a broader range of skills
and Government must address this, alongside the professional bodies
and educational providers. Business does not object to investing
greater resources in the planning system, through higher planning
fees and other charges, for measurable improvements in service.
We believe Government must do the same. Government must recognise
that planning is a key public service and fund it accordingly.
The planning green paper also contains some
proposals that are business unfriendly. Businesses submit twin
applications to counter acknowledged delays in the system. If
the objectives of improved quality and speed of decision making
were achieved then the process would be self-regulating. Removing
this leaves business powerless in the process.
In addition, the proposal to end outline-planning
consents is damaging to business and fails to recognise the importance
that investors place on limiting risk. It is highly questionable
whether the proposed certification scheme will provide the certainty
needed by investors and sought by Government.
House builders welcome the Government's commitment
to greater transparency and certainty in the system of planning
obligations. However, there is strong opposition to the Government's
proposals for a new tariff-based system.
Our objection to the tariff system is fundamental.
By breaking the link between an individual development and planning
obligation the Government is seeking to meet national objectives
through a locally administered tax. Yet the consultation paper
fails to provide any reason why the accepted need for public investment
should be funded by a tax on development, rather than from general
public investment. Instead the tariff is based on the entirely
negative view that communities need "compensating" for
accepting the investment in jobs, housing and transport needed
to underpin a competitive economy.
The tariff system is socially divisive. If implemented
as proposed the greatest community benefits would be felt in areas
that are already affluent and so increase disparities within and
between regions. In regeneration areas the levying of a tariff
is likely to sterilise sites where development itself could be
seen as planning gain.
The tariff will also fail to deliver Government
objectives for greater certainty. It is clear that in many instances
local authorities will require a planning obligation in addition
to the payment of a tariff. In short the Government is proposing
a tariff plus a planning obligation.
Finally, house builders and other developers
cannot be expected to foot the bill for the country's long-term
investment in social housing. Increasing the percentage of affordable
housing on an individual site does nothing to help meet the fundamental
problem of under-supply.
The only acceptable mechanism for planning obligations
especially if we are to improve the public's perception of the
planning system, is for Government to retain the link between
an individual development, planning obligation and planning consent.
One of the key Government priorities is to achieve
an urban renaissance. The house building industry must help deliver
this objective by bringing forward brownfield sites while maintaining
We believe urgent action is necessary to achieve
this. Current Government policy in PPG 3 has restricted the industry's
output from greenfield sites as a result of the sequential approach
and the review of allocated housing land. Outline housing starts
and completions are falling to record low levels.
Brownfield sites must compensate for this restriction
in supply, but sites are not coming forward at anything like the
scale necessary to meet Government targets. This is due to obstruction
There are some key additional measures we would
advocate for Government to bring forward brownfield sites, most
of which require changes in policy rather than new legislation.
1. a presumption in favour of the release
of brownfield sites for housing;
2. new guidance to restrict planning obligations
where they would damage the economic viability or quality of residential
schemes (including the detailed requirements of PPG 3);
3. moves to prioritise the use of urban
land for housing, including measures to prevent the unreasonable
retention of land uses for which there is no effective demand
(particularly employment land);
4. a guarantee from Government that brownfield
sites will not be held back because they are premature to the
completion of development plans; and finally,
5. fast track appeals for brownfield sites.