Secretary of State at Planning Futures

Planning Futures recently hosted a Parliamentary briefing on the Housing White Paper with the Secretary of State at DCLG, the Rt. Hon Sajid Javid MP.

The audience for this event comprised a diverse group of planning stakeholders who had gathered to hear the Secretary of State outline his vision as set out in the white paper and, how it was to be put into practice over the coming months and years.

Mr Javid, sighting years of housing undersupply, framed the content of the White Paper as a response to an increasing lack of affordable housing.  A phenomenon he claimed was the number one barrier to social progress.

He presented the Housing White Paper as being about access to homes at affordable prices – whether you were buying or renting. In his introduction, he highlighted three key themes – more homes in the right places; deliverability (in terms of “developers getting on with it” and Local Authorities doing everything they can to get to the final decision) and diversification in the market (variety of builders and methods of construction).

As the audience were already well informed on the content of the paper, it was perhaps the Q&A portion of the event that proved the most interesting and informative.  Those present included housebuilders, planning consultants and lawyers as well as representatives from housing associations and third sector organisations.

Following the “will they, won’t they” press coverage that preceded the publication of the White Paper, it is perhaps unsurprising that the first question was on the Green Belt. Asked about the position on “Green Belt Authorities”, who have had their local plans refused on housing numbers, the Secretary of State would not be drawn on the issue of sanctions.  Mr Javid argued for the importance of local authorities doing “the right thing” and making honest assessments about their housing need, but also re-affirmed the Governments view that the Green Belt is a precious resource and local authorities should continue to pursue a policy of using brownfield land in the first instance.

On other issues the Secretary of State was somewhat more forthcoming.

Pressed on the timeline for details of the new rent standard for social landlords, set to be in place by 2020, the Secretary of State identified this area as key. He acknowledged the significant role that housing associations have played in housing delivery and acknowledged the importance of providing certainty as soon as possible for the sector.  He hinted that more information would be released in the coming months.

He also addressed the concern of one member of the audience regarding new provisions to calculate objectively assessed housing need (OAN).  Responding to claims that there was a distinct lack of clarity on how the new methods of calculation would work in practice – and that it was odd that they would not be compulsory for all local authorities – the DCLG Secretary of State agreed that there would be no point in introducing a new method if local authorities were to have complete freedom in how to use them.  He said that the consultation on this issue would be published soon and suggested that the Government’s response would bring greater clarity.

Lewis Sidnick, NHBC Director of Corporate & External Affairs,) commented: “This timely event provided a good opportunity for the sector the share its views and question the DCLG Secretary of State on the Government’s recently launched Housing White Paper.

“NHBC looks forward to continuing to work closely with Government and industry on the Housing White Paper, and in making a positive contribution to policy development.”

Cian Bryan

Cian Bryan is a Director at Planning Futures

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