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New homes bonus could be withheld from local plan stragglers

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Housing minister Alok Sharma has told LGC the government “will consider” withholding new homes bonus payments from councils that fail to adopt a local plan.

Mr Sharma said the bonus could be withheld from 2018-19 for any councils which “aren’t planning effectively”, adding: “It is certainly something we’re looking at.”

He was speaking this morning at the launch event of a Localis report which made the recommendation about withholding the bonus.

The thinktank’s report Disrupting the Housing Market, also recommended that “strategic authorities” should be allowed to negotiate housing deals with the government.

In addition, it proposes the National Infrastructure Commission should oversee a programme creating new towns in the south-east, suggests the state should own and invest more money in factories building modular homes, and outlines plans to make employers and the government contribute to an auto-enrolment-type scheme so first-time buyers can save for a deposit.

LGC reported in April how only 36% of councils had an up-to-date local plan in place. The research, conducted by consultancy Lichfields, also found 43% of councils were yet even to publish a draft.

Localis’ report said: “To incentivise a wider coverage of local plans, government should announce it will withhold new homes bonus from local authorities without an adopted local plan from 2018-19.

“Government should also reaffirm its support for the Homes & Communities Agency or relevant strategic authority to intervene in plan-making where little progress is being made towards that deadline, or where plans, under preparation or submitted, do not sufficiently respond.”

Strategic authorities are defined by Localis “as a formal collaborative arrangement of local councils across a geography with democratic legitimacy”.

John Fuller (Con), chair of the District Councils’ Network, said: “The government should resist proposals to tinker with new homes bonus that would reduce an incentive which generates support for housing growth in localities and which will have a negative impact on the delivery of more homes.”

The housing white paper said the government was “interested in the scope for bespoke housing deals with authorities in high demand areas, which have a genuine ambition to build”.

Localis said it is “incumbent on strategic authorities, with the support of constituent local councils, to come forward with proposals on the powers and support they require”.

LGC reported last week how Greater Manchester CA has just started talks with the government over a housing deal.

Philip Atkins (Con), County Councils Network vice chair, said: “We agree with their recommendation that county strategic authorities should put forward ‘housing deals’, and be allowed to intervene when local plans are not progressing.”

But Cllr Fuller said: “It will be district councils, working in partnership with neighbouring authorities, who provide the planning and housing expertise required to unlock the potential of housing deals.”

On the topic of the green belt, Localis’ report said it “is a blunt planning control method which forces new homes to be built in inappropriate places and blocks their construction in areas entirely suitable”.

It proposed amending the National Planning Policy Framework “stipulating that unmet housing need represents exceptional circumstances in which green belt land…can be allocated for residential development”. Or councils should be “compelled to prepare, maintain and publish ‘yellow-field’ registers” which would be made up of greenbelt land sites that do not meet the five purposes outlined in the NPPF. The purposes are to:

  • · check the unrestricted sprawl of large built-up areas
  • · prevent neighbouring towns merging into one another
  • · assist in safeguarding the countryside from encroachment
  • · preserve the setting and special character of historic towns
  • · assist in urban regeneration, by encouraging the recycling of derelict and other urban land

Mr Sharma also said incoming brownfield registers councils have to keep are “a pretty good starting point” to Localis’ proposal for ‘yellow-field’ registers.

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