Housing white paper reforms put in doubt

Housing didn’t feature as prominently in last week’s Queen’s speech as it did in 2015. Whereas last time around it took up pages 27 to 29, this year it was relegated to a shorter passage on pages 72 and 73.

Furthermore, there was no sign of a housing bill to implement the measures in February’s housing white paper.

After the speech, the government clarified that it would “deliver the reforms proposed in the white paper to increase transparency around the control of land, to ‘free up more land for new homes in the right places, speed up build-out by encouraging modern methods of construction and diversify who builds homes in the country’.”

However, this begs two questions: how will all this be achieved without legislation and what happens to the other measures in the white paper?

No bold reform

“We’ve been speculating that the government would not be progressing large parts of the housing white paper and the Queen’s speech confirmed this,” says Ian Anderson, executive director at planning consultancy Iceni Projects.

“With no new primary legislation planned, it is clear that the government has yet again kicked bold reform into the long grass.”

It is clear that the government has yet again kicked bold reform into the long grass

Some of the changes in the white paper do not necessarily require legislative changes. Jamie McKie, planning lawyer at Dentons says that a lot of the measures in the white paper would arrive “via policy changes, most likely through the long-awaited revision to the NPPF [National Planning Policy Framework]”.

But Duncan Field, UK head of planning at law firm Norton Rose Fulbright, says some of the policies do require legislation.

“Many of the commitments in the white paper involved changes to national policy and guidance but there were legislative changes, such as changes to the completion notice procedure so that local planning authorities have more scope to force the implementation of planning permissions for housing on sites that have stalled [adopting the ‘use it or lose it’ approach],” he explains.

His thoughts are echoed by Asher Ross, planning director at GL Hearn, who even doubts that the government will deliver a fully revised NPPF.

“Yes, there is no need for primary legislation for most changes, but the briefing notes do not state that there will be implementation of all the measures in the white paper,” he explains.

“This does look like a watering down of the major changes proposed and perhaps not even a fully revised NPPF, which had been anticipated in the autumn.”

Field adds: “Just how much of a priority [housing] still is will only become apparent when we see how quickly government acts on the non-legislative changes that have been promised and how well other initiatives to increase the supply of housing are resourced.”

Whether the new government is losing sight of housing remains to be seen - but the early signs will not leave many feeling reassured.

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