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President's Blog November 17

Date: 14/11/2017

Steve ingram's latest blog:

After a 'certain amount' of media interest the Party Conference season finally came to an end in October. 
Importantly, because of our area of particular interest, we now need to consider what they all had to say about 'Planning' and then try to anticipate what their stated intentions may herald for the planning process.

We'll need to start with the current Governments position and perhaps the most relevant, and eye-catching headline, was the one associated with, and underpinning, the Conservative Partys proposed, updated, policy position on how they will now look to do about tackling the housing crisis. 

Really interestingly the Prime Minister and the Communities Secretary both went straight to the root of the issue it when they lamented that what they considered to be their Partys failures on housing were garnering further support for Labour.

Therefore the taking forward of the previously heralded White Paper housing supply initiatives can be expected. House price affordability was also again strongly highlighted as a fundamental issue and in association with that some really eye-watering housing numbers were again being talked about. I think I saw the need to build 300,000 new homes a year being directly referenced on the simplistic assumption that such forced increases in supply will actually result in house price deflation.

Therefore the Conservative Party headlined an additional £2bn of investment in affordable housing in order to allow many more homes to be built for social rent where they consider that the need is the greatest. However there was no related attempt to define or prescribe what 'need is the greatest' may actually amount to. Also the potential quantum of new homes that would be built as a direct result of this initiative, quoted as being around 25,000, was immediately criticised within the housing sector as being largely inadequate in light of the related scale of demand.

An additional £10bn was also announced to further extend the current on-going Help to Buy house purchase support initiative which it is stated could potentially help around 130,000 more homes to be bought. However, again almost by return, many housing industry commentators set out that this would be likely to help to inflate, rather than actually reduce, house prices which of course would be to the benefit of the developers rather than the purchasers.

Finally there was an announcement that, as a reversal of the currently imposed position, social housing rent increases will be limited to CPI +1% for the five years from 2020. Whilst this appears to be a minor shift in the approach to setting social rents it is actually quite important in that it could give both Councils and Housing Associations a much needed degree of certainty regarding their projected future potential income. 
However in light of the many comments regarding the failure of the system to supply anywhere near enough affordable social to me it now appears to be somewhat perverse. What I mean by that is that Councils like my own authority, which is still a provider of Council housing, had previously set out ambitious plans for additional Council house building, on land within our ownership, only for them to be derailed by the 2016 imposition of compulsory reductions in social rents (which destroyed many projected rental income based business plans).

Meanwhile at the Labour Conference they appeared to be focusing upon other things with the planning process not really appearing in too many headlines. Basically it seems that the Labour Party is still working out the details of its potential planning policies with Roberta Blackman-Woods being asked to chair yet another commission on Planning.

However in his Leaders Speech Jeremy Corbyn did promise to be potentially somewhat radical regarding issues of land supply. In essence he talked about possibly taxing developers undeveloped land holdings, further empowering Local Authorities compulsory purchase, potentially legislating to allow Councils to buy land at prices which will support affordable house building and to impose restrictions on the potential terms' of proposed estate regeneration schemes. 

With regard to the highly pertinent Local Authority resourcing issue reporters indicated Blackman-Woods said that her commission would look to address the issue of over-stretched planning teams potentially by allowing local planning departments to set their own fees. Melanie Onn, who is the Shadow Housing Minister, also acknowledged that critical shortage of Local Authority planning staff was now a real issue.
The other parties also made some murmurings regarding housing supply with the Liberal Democrats perhaps grabbing the headlines by  announcing that they would be looking to double the annual house supply by allowing Councils to build more affordable homes and by them proactively supporting a raft of new garden cities and villages in places where housing demand exceeds supply.

Therefore, in conclusion, it looks like we are all going to see another raft of potential changes, and perhaps even more fundamental amendments, to the planning process coming forward in the near future. As always it will be very interesting to see if the reality stands up to the rhetoric but I think we can be assured that the ongoing development of the dialogue will keep us all pretty busy. We live in interesting times!

Steve Ingram, President 2017/18

Steve Ingram President 17_18_web.jpg

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