The HBF has been critical of the time it has taken for this bill to come forward. Six months have passed since Eric Pickles scrapped the RSSs - illegally as it turned out - and local authorities and our industry have both been unhappy with the policy vacuum created.
We all agree that the old system wasn’t working as we wanted and that we needed to move away from an adversarial and choked up system to something new. So, the Localism Bill has turned our world upside down – instead of meeting central government requirements our members will be working with local authorities across the country to build the homes we desperately need.
To encourage councillors and their citizens to engage and become pro-development, the coalition has passed down powers and responsibility - though the advent of neighbourhood planning and increased powers for community groups have concerned some councils and their professional planners.
The key here will be to keep things simple, transparent and efficient rather than strangling the planning process still further; it raises real questions over the powers of communities over councils. As with central government, sometimes the right thing needs to be done by elected representatives even if it is not the most popular thing – will nimbyism take hold? Of course, the other incentive for building is cash and local economic benefit – including creating and sustaining local jobs.
Importantly, the New Homes Bonus will only be fully-funded by central government for the first year. After that it will be top-sliced from local government grant so creating a stick for those councils that do not build to match the carrot for those that do. This is going to become more and more important following the 27% cuts to local government funding in the spending review.
It is now up to our industry to work with councils and communities to ensure that we set about tackling our housing crisis. If we can make localism work – and re-educate the ‘nimbys’ across the country - communities will make real gains socially and economically. If the new system fails to combat nimbyism, housing numbers could drop still further causing near irreparable damage to our society. It’s a huge risk but we can see the potential rewards.
John Slaughter, director of external affairs, Home Builders Federation