The Government has today announced a number of new measures to help boost housebuilding across the country. The package includes:
- A new ‘capacity fund’ of £18 million, which councils can apply for funding from to boost planning resources on major sites, usually for projects of 1,500 homes or more. It is hoped these extra resources will speed up applications and lead to work commencing more quickly on new homes.
- 6 new Housing Zones, all on brownfield land and with potential capacity for 10,000 new homes. The sites announced today are in Sheffield, Grimsby and Cleethorpes, Barnsley, Sandwell, Blackburn and Burnley, and the Wirral. Other councils are being encouraged to bid for more areas to be designated Housing Zones in future.
- A new Garden Town to be built in Shepway, Kent, with around 12,000 homes and other facilities such as schools to support the development.
This announcement follows a series of statements of intent over the past twelve months, and it is clear that housing is now right at the top of the current Government’s agenda.
However, we have seen flurries of announcements about boosting housebuilding before, from Labour Governments, the Coalition Government and the current Conservative Government. Yet the number of new builds has not kept pace with the rhetoric. The release today of latest ONS data showing a fall in construction output reinforces that dichotomy between aspiration and delivery.
So will the latest new measures actually make any difference? £18 million seems a small amount to accelerate the delivery of the stated 800,000 new homes required!
On their own, these measures will only make a slight difference, is our guess. These are measures that can be introduced immediately and can really only be seen as a stop-gap.
But we also suspect there will be much more to come in the next few weeks. We know there is a Housing White Paper due out later this month, probably likely to be released to coincide the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement. The package of measures contained in that is likely to be much more extensive and focused on the longer-term.
What might those other measures be? From press statements and speeches made at, for instance, Conservative Party Conference, we can expect the White Paper to address issues such as:
- Releasing more land into the system; (The Government has already stated that it is looking to do this, with the MoD announcing it has identified 56 new sites to be sold for development. And the Mayor of London is looking to release Transport for London land for speedy development too).
- Speeding up the planning permission process, perhaps by allowing planning Departments to charge more in application fees;
- Increasing certainty in the planning system; (This is something that the Mayor of London is also taking steps to address. Yesterday James Murray, Deputy Mayor for Housing, said that he is planning to drop viability assessments for applications that meet a 35% affordable housing target);
- Broadening diversity in the industry, especially increasing the number of builds from small and medium sized companies, perhaps through a dedicated fund (see this article from August as an indicator);
- Bringing more institutional investment into the industry, e.g. around PRS, and supporting Build to Rent;
- And supporting innovation, for example modular housing.
Taken together, initiatives of this kind could help create a tipping point that finally sees the number of houses being built close the gap on the clear need and demand for new homes.
We await the Autumn Statement and the Housing White Paper with expectation and interest.