Permission in principle could seriously boost housing delivery

We are back two weeks now, and I STILL haven’t fully recovered from MIPIM. Partly because I was knackered before I started, partly because I then set off for Belfast last week to support the local community partnerships over there (so I’ve only got myself to blame), but mostly because just so much happened out there that it has taken me two whole weeks to process it all. 

The government’s intent to make a serious inroad into housing delivery was much in evidence at MIPIM, and it is gathering momentum. Many people out at MIPIM were extremely encouraged by the speeches made by Gavin Barwell, minister for housing and planning. And nearly as many remarked at what a fist was being made (at tackling their onerous brief) by Eddie Lister, the recently appointed new chair of the HCA and his, even more recently appointed new chief executive, Nick Walkley. The guys and their team were simply everywhere, at all events that mattered, and very much on the front foot.

This is a powerfully rebooted campaign, sure enough; with the chair and the CEO squaring up to the challenge of turning around their damaged-brand full-on: the HCA is soon to be renamed and relaunched as Homes England, in an effort to communicate this new resolve. And they have an eye-watering £28bn at their disposal. Add to that the truly luminous new appointment of Helen MacNamara as director of housing in CLG, and you really do have a team to be reckoned with, from minister downward, together with a policy framework that’s fit for purpose. They are hell bent on cracking this one, this time. 

In much the same vein, it was announced today that councils will have new tools to speed up development of derelict and underused land for new homes. Local authorities across the country will now have to produce and maintain up-to-date, publicly available registers of brownfield sites available for housing locally. The new registers will help housebuilders identify suitable brownfield sites quickly, promising to unlock land for thousands of new homes. Communities will be able to highlight local derelict or underused building sites that are primed for redevelopment. This can bring investment to the area and increase the number of new homes in the area.

Our brainbox housing minister comments: “We need to build more homes in this country so making sure that we re-use brownfield land is crucial. We want to bring life back to abandoned sites, create thousands more homes and help protect our valued countryside. These new registers will give local authorities and developers the tools to do this.”

But more importantly, the government has also introduced a new way of obtaining planning permission through these new registers. To be known as “permission in principle” this initiative will make it easier for developers to deliver housing in the places where people want to live. “Permission in principle” will simplify the planning process, giving applicants more certainty over whether a site is suitable for development ahead of working up costly proposals to obtain full planning permission. This will encourage new development and increase the amount of land available to build on, helping to boost housing supply.

This “permission in principle” could be immensely exciting if Her Majesty’s government get the framework right: further legislation is expected this year to roll it out more widely through the planning system. It will be interesting to see how it plays through (and spare a thought for it might do to Red Book valuations). On the one hand, planning authorities and communities will need to be more vigilant to ensure that such a measure is not abused. On the other hand, provided it is responsibly executed, then it could seriously accelerate housing delivery. 

All to play for I reckon. 

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