Supply of New Homes Is an Imperative for the Country; the Government's Ditching of Regional Spatial Strategies - or RSS - Is Short-Sighted and Has Huge Implications for a Beleaguered Housing Industry Which, in Addition to the Major Cuts to Housing Funding and Social Benefits, Is Facing Crisis Point, According to Louise Brooke-Smith
The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats made sweeping promises in their manifestos on planning and housing matters.
Both felt that much of the planning red tape was superfluous and that decisions should be made 'by the people'. The Government also pledged to bring empty homes into use; to promote shared ownership schemes and help social tenants and others to own or partown their home. All laudable proposals and, given the state of the country's housing supply, anything to improve the situation had to be welcomed.
But the situation is getting worse. New building has fallen to levels not seen since the 1920s, Housing Benefit is being curtailed and the promise made in the Comprehensive Spending Review for 150,000 new social homes goes nowhere near addressing the million familystrong waiting list. The average age of the first-time buyer is now 37. In the boom of the 1980s, it was 23.
The Housing Minister, Grant Shapps, has acknowledged the parlous state of the sector and although he sees the New Homes Bonus as a panacea to get the private sector moving again, sceptics have pointed out that there is very little detail to hand, other than the aspiration that "communities that go for growth reap the benefits of development, not just the costs".
While the Government won plaudits for outlawing garden grabbing, the simultaneous abolition of RSS will have a far deeper impact.
Until this summer, RSS was a critical tier of housing. Government set housing strategy, it was interpreted in terms of housing targets at a regional level and then respective local planning authorities took these figures and turned them into housing targets at a local level, identifying specific sites for development. In one sweep, RSS was removed and the impact on the housing industry has been severe with uncertainty being the name of the game.
The sacrifice of RSS on the altar of the 'Big Society' and the push for local decision-making will manifest itself in the Decentralisation and Localism Bill, due to be published any time now.
The Bill will give local communities greater power in areas such as governance, finance and planning, including a 'Community Right to Build'. It is expected that rural communities wishing to build housing developments could theoretically bypass the usual planning application hoops if 75 per cent of electors are in favour.
But even with this potential, housing completions remain substantially down, even taking account of the recession. People still need homes but funding for affordable projects dramatically reduced earlier this year because of restricted funding from the Homes and Communities Agency - and this has been consolidated further by the Comprehensive Spending Review.
Funding for the HCA's Kickstart initiative was slashed earlier this spring. It has meant many major schemes have been mothballed. Kickstart funding aimed to get stalled house building sites working again and generated many times more private sector investment than the initial injection of public money. Restarting sites creates jobs immediately and results in positive economic spin-offs across local economies. This scheme required developers to take on apprentices to qualify for the public investment and any threat to apprenticeships will have a long-term impact on the country's ability to deliver new homes. …