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'More aggressive' HCA eager to take on local planning powers

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The chair of the Homes and Communities Agency has warned councils he cannot wait to take over their planning duties and revealed the organisations plans to become more ”agressive and interventionist” in the market.

Speaking at the Housing 2017 conference in Manchester yesterday, Sir Edward Lister said councils need to get into a “far better place” with regards their local plans.

He spoke of a need to provide “some degree of certainty” to the housing market as “nobody is going to keep on pouring money in to planning applications if they can’t see a result at the end of the day”. He added that while the planning system was “really good for big players… it’s really hopeless for the small players”.

Edward Lister

Edward Lister

Sir Edward Lister

Sir Edward said: “That is a piece of work for others, although it is worth reminding you that we actually have planning powers. All the secretary of state has to do is draw a red line on a map and make an announcement and we become your planning authority. I just mention that because one bright sunny day I dearly want to use those powers, although I suspect there are some people who dearly don’t want me to.”

A section in chapter 2 of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008, which established the HCA, enables the agency to take on councils’ planning powers.

LGC reported last week how many of the reforms contained in the housing white paper, published earlier this year, can still go ahead without new legislation.

Sir Edward said: “We don’t know where that [housing white paper] is going at the moment but we do know much of that paper is amendments to the [National Planning Policy Framework] and therefore it’s perfectly possible for a lot of that to take place.

“I personally believe it has to take place because with 40% of the country without any local plan, and with the other 60% you can probably ask some very difficult questions about their local plans, we have to get ourselves to a far better place in local government and that’s a question for local authorities.”

Giving greater certainty in relation to the planning process was one of four challenges facing the housing sector Sir Edward outlined. The other three were getting the finances in place to enable homes and infrastructure to be built, speeding up construction rates, and providing enough land “in the right places”.

As one of the largest asset holders in the country the HCA has “a big part to play” in influencing the market and the pace at which developments are built, but Sir Edward later added he wanted the agency to do “far more” land acquisition so it could speed up the process.

He said the HCA is to become “much more aggressive and much more interventionist in the market”.

Sir Edward also urged councils and housing associations not yet building to enter the market, as he said the private sector financial model did not allow developers to build at a faster rate while proactive housing associations are “maxed out”.

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