Lyons Review of Housing and Planning for the Labour Party: An initial reaction from the National Trust

Today Sir Michael Lyons published the findings of a major review of Housing and Planning policy commissioned nine months ago by the Labour leader Ed Miliband.

Housing has become one of the top political issues in recent years, and especially since house building rates fell following the recession and have so far failed to recover.  The National Trust recognises that the nation needs more homes. For us it is critical that we choose the right places to put new housing, and we think the best way to do this is through a local plan-led process, so we can protect special areas of countryside and involve communities in shaping places to get good quality, genuinely sustainable development

Sir Michael was tasked by Labour with drawing up a road map to increase the supply of new homes in England above 200,000 a year by the end of the next Parliament.

The review took evidence from hundreds of stakeholders, and its work was guided by 12 commissioners from across the housing and planning sector. The final, comprehensive report stretches to 180 pages.

Sir Michael identifies two major reasons why the nation is not building enough homes. The first is that not enough land is being brought forward for homes, a problem which he says is compounded by the fact that communities do not have all the powers they need to ensure home are built in the places they want. The second is that the nation’s capacity to build homes has shrunk drastically – largely due to the significant decline in the public sector’s contribution to house building.

Listed below are some of the specific solutions proposed (in bold), along with our initial reaction in italics.

  • Strengthen the responsibility of councils to identify sufficient land for new homes in local plans. Where there is a failure to cooperate across boundaries to meet needs in a housing market area, councils will be required to produce a joint strategic plan, or Strategic Housing Market Plan (SHMP), with the Secretary of State having the ability to intervene and instruct the Planning Inspectorate to ensure that it happens.

There is a need for a more effective measure to resolve tensions between councils about where new housing should and should not go. Some areas have environmental constraints such as Green Belt or AONB which mean they cannot meet their own housing needs in full. A clearer strategic level of planning could help resolve these problems and help get more local plans in place to ensure development is in line with the vision set by a community.

  • Require all local planning authorities should be required to submit a Local Plan to the planning inspectorate for examination within a set time frame (December 2016).

This seems an arbitrary timescale. Does it apply to a LPA whose plan expires six months before the deadline?

  • Monitor Local Plan delivery annually in terms of house build as well as land allocation. Where there is a persistent under delivery, the Secretary of State will have the power to direct further efforts including an increase in the buffer of identified land to increase the number of sites with potential for delivery; designation of a planning authority; or the creation of a New Homes Corporation where not previously established.

This is an unfortunate proposal. Forthcoming research from the National Trust suggests that often under-delivery of housing in an area can be down to market failure and not a lack of land availability. Forcing councils to release more land will only succeed in removing councils ability to shape where development should take place and allow developers to cherry pick sites.

  • Simplify and speed up plan making by splitting the process, including examination, into two stages. Local authorities would first work together on the strategic elements of their plans including housing numbers, strategic infrastructure, major urban extensions or new settlements. Once found sound by the Planning Inspectorate it could be accorded weight in decision making much earlier than at present. The detailed work on the detailed policies of a Local Plan could be approved after a lighter touch second stage.  

This seems like a sensible proposal which could lead to more decisions being made in line with a communities’ vision for development in its area.

  • Give councils “use it or lose it” powers to incentivise faster development, giving them the ability to levy council tax on plots allocated for housing in plans where homes are not built within reasonable timescales.

This measure could help to speed up the delivery of unimplemented planning permissions.

  • Establish a national Housing Observatory as a single repository for key data, forecasts and analysis on housing to assist policy making, evaluation and a consistent approach to housing market assessments.

There is a lack of coherent, reliable data on land use and housing and planning, so provided the Observatory was independent and gathered environmental information like the availability of brownfield land and where ‘off-plan’ development was taking place, this is to be welcomed.

  • Produce a national spatial assessment to draw together the spatial implications of government infrastructure and growth and economic development policies.

This seems a sensible proposal, something the RTPI and others have been calling for.

  • New Housing Growth Areas to give councils the ability to act as lead developers on behalf of their communities, with greater control over: where the homes should go; the speed of development; the design and quality of schemes; and the specification of a greater mix of tenures so that they can attract a wider range of house builders into the market.  
  • Create New Homes Corporations to act as delivery agencies working across housing market areas with a particular focus on development in Housing Growth Areas. Led by local authorities, they will bring together private developers, Housing Associations, and investment partners to use powers and funding to deliver the new homes, with clear and accountable outcomes to local communities.

We would like to see more detail on how Housing Growth Areas and New Towns Corporations would function. If they genuinely strengthen a communities’ ability to shape its places then they could be a welcome addition. Genuine community involvement will be key to their success or failure.

  • Create a package of support for SME builders and Housing Associations.
  • Introduce a new locally led Garden Cities and Suburbs programme, to be delivered by new Garden City Development Corporations and New Homes Corporations based on reformed New Towns Legislation, together with Government criteria.  

We will look carefully at proposals for housing growth areas and garden cities and suburbs. It is critical that we choose the right places to put new housing, and involve communities through the local planning process to get genuinely sustainable development.

  • Commit to good design, place-making and the environment, reinforced by adopting the zero-carbon standard, setting minimum space standards for new build, and streamlining housing standards.
  • Greater use of masterplanning and Planning Performance Agreements for large scale development and early engagement in planning to reduce risk, improve certainty and speed of development.

In principle we support the greater use of masterplanning and other tools to involve communities in place making.

  • Introduction of “redline” applications for sites of less than ten units (a plan of the site with a short statement justifying the design and dealing with the likely impacts). This would allow the principle of development to be agreed before the developer is required to produce a lot of work on detailed matters (which would subsequently be subject to approval through conditions or reserved matters).

This is a concerning proposal. The impact of a development is relative to its setting, and in some places developments of fewer than 10 houses could have a major impact. It does not seem like a sensible approach to have a blanket policy of lighter planning controls for applications to build fewer than 10 homes.

One thought on “Lyons Review of Housing and Planning for the Labour Party: An initial reaction from the National Trust

  1. The labour party helped to create the housing shortage by allowing uncontrolled immigration to this already overcrowded country. Sir Michael’s review is just pie in the sky

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