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Five things to look out for in the Housing White Paper

06/02/17
What can we expect to see in the much-delayed Housing White Paper?

After what has sometimes felt like an endless sequence of delays, the government’s much anticipated Housing White Paper is expected to be published tomorrow (Tuesday 7th February).  PLMR’s Planning Team will be reviewing the White Paper’s contents and its implications for the property sector following its publication, but before then we wanted to provide a quick preview of some of the key anticipated content.

Here are the top five expected announcements the White Paper should deliver, based on off-the-record whispers from Whitehall and speculation in the media over the past 48 hours.

We hope it whets your appetite for the main course expected tomorrow:

  • No weakening of green belt protections – much has been made about the delays to the White Paper (originally expected last year), and a lot of speculation has centred on rumours that Number Ten was unhappy with plans to remove some restrictions on green belt development.  With a fragile parliamentary majority, the last thing the Prime Minister needs is Conservative MPs in constituencies with large tracts of green belt kicking off about the threat to their green and pleasant land. If this was the cause of the delays, then the PM’s team appear to have got their way.  Saturday’s Daily Telegraph reported that the green belt is ‘off limits’ in the White Paper and this was confirmed by Planning Minister Gavin Barwell on ITV’s Peston on Sunday programme 24 hours later.  Barwell was clear when pressed on this - “The policy is not going to change and is very clear - it is a local decision.”
  • A change of emphasis toward rental – in what the Planning Minister describes as a ‘change of tone’ from previous Conservative policy, the White Paper should include a range of measures designed to increase the number of homes being built for ‘affordable rent’.  Developers and councils will be encouraged to deliver more rental homes, albeit the mechanism for facilitating delivery remains to be seen.  In addition, measures to introduce minimum tenancies, giving tenants greater security, are expected and developers will be able to offer lower rents as part of their affordable housing contribution.
  • Opening up the market – the Housing White Paper is expected to announce measures encouraging more organisations to deliver the housing the country needs, including small housebuilders, investment institutions, RHAs and local authorities.  Again, we will have to wait for the paper itself to see how the government proposes this will be done.
  • Delivering consented homes more quickly – ‘landbanking’ has long been criticised by governments (both Conservative and Labour) as an impediment to housing delivery, and the Communities Secretary Sajid Javid suggested the government would intervene on this issue as recently as the Conservative Party Conference in October.  Measures to speed up the time from consent to construction are anticipated in the White Paper, and could include numerous ‘sticks’ such as charging developers council tax on homes they haven’t yet built, and/or the compulsory purchase of consented sites that remain unimplemented.
  • Freeing up existing family housing by helping older people move into smaller homes – the White Paper may well include provisions for more specialist housing for older people, such as sheltered accommodation and assisted living.  This is intended to give older people more choice with the expectation it will encourage them to downsize, freeing up existing family housing stock.  The Planning Minister said yesterday, “It’s not just about how many houses you build, but are you building the right kind of houses?”

The Housing White Paper has a lot to live up to, and the above-mentioned measures are amongst the most likely contents.  However, there is still room for surprises.  The PLMR team will be reviewing the White Paper in detail, so do keep an eye out for our analysis soon.

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