24th July Journal Column

Landscape LLP Logo White - 300 dpiBy Sarah Wilson, Partner at Watson Burton, specialising in construction and engineering law

Chancellor George Osbourne and business secretary Sajid Javid have revealed a ‘Fixing the Foundations’ housing plan in the biggest change to the UK planning system since the introduction of localism in 2011 under the coalition government.

The 90-page blueprint sets out a plan to accelerate house building in the UK to meet the government’s target of 200,000 starter homes and 275,000 affordable homes by 2020. Changes to the planning system to help meet these goals include a move to liberalised zones – a system already adopted in other countries in which developers will be granted automatic planning permission for residential developments on suitable brownfield sites.

By removing slow and expensive planning obstacles, The Chancellor hopes to release enough land to build the homes that people need, by making housing developments a less expensive and more attractive investment.

The UK has previously struggled to build enough homes to meet the growing demand, frustrating potential home owners. Councils will now be expected to plan proactively to identify land suitable for development and design new housing sites. A new law will allow the government to intervene if local authorities fail to produce a suitable housing plan. Further penalties will be imposed on councils who fail to quickly process planning applications.

These reforms look set to solve an age-old problem that local authorities have failed to plan ahead for meaningful developments; however we still have the issue of delivery. The skills shortage in the industry means that builders are turning down projects and this problem will only get worse with an increased development demand and no pipeline of skilled workers.

The funding cuts which have hit local government in the past decade have led to a severe lack of resource and expertise within council planning departments. And with an increased pressure on councils to deliver a higher number of homes, this resource needs to be supported, not just by central government, but also the private sector.

There are a number of brownfield sites available in the North East, these reforms should see an increase in housing developments in desirable living areas – a move which is important for growth in the North East. An increase in starter homes will mean young professionals can live closer to where they want to settle and work, and an increased talent pool will attract inward investment from companies wanting to locate to a cost efficient region- which is great news for everyone.