Communities minister James Brokenshire has revealed details of the forthcoming accelerated planning green paper, which include proposals to help councils recover more of their planning costs.
The green paper will look at creating ”greater capacity and capability within local planning authorities, stronger plan-making, better performance management and procedural improvements including in the process of granting planning permissions”, Mr Brokenshire told the audience at the Housing 2019 conference this week.
Currently, only half of the annual £1bn spent on local authority planning functions is covered by fee income, he said. The green paper will invite proposals to pilot new approaches to meeting the costs of the planning service “where this improves service”, including where councils could recover a greater proportion of these costs.
Councils would then be expected to plough the money saved back into the planning system “to demonstrate measurable improvements within their performance – not just in terms of speed, but very firmly also in terms of quality”.
In response, the Local Government Association’s housing spokesman Martin Tett (Con) called for the accelerated planning green paper to include allowing councils to be able to set their own planning fees, with taxpayers currently having to subsidise the costs of planning applications by around £200 million a year.
“The planning system is not a barrier to housebuilding – with councils approving nine in 10 applications, and the majority processed quickly while hundreds of thousands of homes have been given planning permission but are yet to be built,” he said.
Mr Brokenshire spoke of the need to “trust” councils to build at the scale required. “Historically, councils have been the driving force in British housebuilding. They have the land. They have the planning responsibilities. And they know what our communities need. They also have the ambition to get building. Our councils now have the chance to show everyone what can be achieved when the money is there.
“Lifting the borrowing cap – is it technical? Definitely. Is it boring? Maybe – depends who you are! But will it be transformational? Yes – absolutely.”
Mr Brokenshire also used the opportunity of his appearance at the housing conference to announce that the government will be supporting 19 new garden villages delivering 73,000 new homes, which will include a specially designed community supporting the needs of people with dementia as part of a new garden community at St George’s Barracks in Rutland.
He spoke of knowing “too well” the “devastating impact” dementia can have, from his own experience with his mother. “It’s vital our new communities are built with these kinds of challenges in mind – ensuring people can live independently and safely for as long as possible”, he added.
Mr Brokenshire also unveiled proposals to make it easier for renters to transfer deposits directly between landlords when moving.
He praised the government’s rogue landlord database for helping councils keep track of “the very worst offenders”, and reiterated the government’s intentions to open access to information on the database to make it a useful tool for tenants too. “I’m keen we consider whether the scope of the database is right, and if it can deliver even more in stopping the minority of bad landlords from preventing people from living in the decent housing they deserve,” he added.
The minister also confirmed that half of the £2bn of long term funding to 2028-29 for housing associations, which was announced last September, will got to London with the remainder split between the rest of the country, reflecting high housing demand in London.
The government is addressing concerns about the shoddy quality of some new build homes by looking to appoint a new homes ombudsman to boost standards, and has also just launched a consultation on redress for purchasers of new build homes.
Following controversy over the sale of leasehold homes, Mr Brokenshire also announced that ground-rents on new leases will be reduced to zero, preventing leaseholders being charged exorbitant fees, and the sale of leasehold houses will be banned “other than in exceptional circumstances” within the current Help to Buy scheme.