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As the General Election draws nearer, the main parties reveal their plans for housing over the next parliamentary term. We asked Brookbanks technical experts to have their say...

With Labour branding themselves as the ‘Party of Homeownership’ and the Conservatives promising ‘transformational’ policies to boost home ownership, our Brookbanks technical experts share their thoughts on what should be a priority for the incoming government in order to increase housing delivery across the country.

Annabel Le Lohé, Associate – Development and Planning

Since the Planning White Paper consultation in 2020, a protracted series of reforms have plagued the planning system. None have amounted to a fundamental overhaul and acceleration of the system as rhetoric may indicate, and the consistent tinkering has undoubtedly caused avoidable delays. Planners need the government to take strong and swift action to address the housing crisis and implement further flexibility in planning permissions across the board. A period of stability would then be welcomed once more pragmatic policies are embedded.

The starting point should be the reinstatement of mandatory housing targets in my view, accompanied by a requirement for all LPA’s (including those with an up-to-date Local Plan) to report on their 5-year supply position each year. Secondary legislation to bring elements of the LURA forward should continue where prudent, for example supporting the implementation of Section 73B. Bringing this into force will once again enable amendment of descriptions of development post-decision. The consultation specifically on the matter took place earlier in 2024 and should not be forgotten amidst more high-profile planning changes. Should regional planning be confirmed to have a renaissance, the form of this should be consulted upon as a matter of priority and its scope be well considered and appropriately phased, so’s not to cause undue delays.

Annabel Le Lohe

Mathew Capper, Director of Utilities

Utility infrastructure planning and investment should be a key focus of the new government with regional distribution and capacity issues being addressed as a similar priority to more high-profile national schemes.

Electricity network regulations continue to restrict forward planning and investment by DNOs and whilst recent regulation changes have helped to reduce the cost burden on developers, the timescales associated with the delivery of network reinforcement is now significantly frustrating development in multiple areas of England. Coordinated effort and investment is needed, bringing together the regulators, industry bodies, local authorities, and network operators to develop changes to the regulations that allow improvements to utility networks in advance of demand to unlock the kind of housing delivery that all potential governments acknowledge is needed.

This issue extends beyond electricity, with areas of the country now being impacted by water scarcity, the need to continue to drive the development of sustainable new homes, through the implementation of the Future Homes Standard and beyond, is critical. The housing industry is innovative and resourceful, and where government provides clear leadership and direction of travel, the industry will invest in technology and supply chain to meet the challenges that are ahead.

Mat Capper

Melanie A’Lee, Director of Transport

As with many other sectors, lock of local authority investment is creating significant challenges. This is felt most acutely in rural locations where developers are required to encourage non-car transport methods, but without corresponding local authority investment in infrastructure outside of the development, this can be difficult to achieve.

Many County Councils have County wide strategic models and require developers of large sites to use their models as part of an assessment of impact. These models are often long-winded and costly, and the result does not always provide anything different to a manual assessment which is quicker and cheaper to produce.

Whilst models are a useful tool to determine the cumulative impact of sites coming forward in a Local Plan, they should not be a requirement that developers use them.

In general, the local authority need more planners and should have access to investment to support wider scale active transport strategies that do not rely on developer contributions to provide the wider infrastructure required to make active travel a success.

Melanie A’Lee

Richard Boyle, Technical Director

What all the parties seem to be ignoring is that there are real structural and resourcing problems to address within local authorities and public bodies, as well as perception issues by the public, which won’t be quick fixes and, at the moment, nothing is being stated to how these will be addressed.

There are huge resource shortfalls in planning departments around the country, either through lack of staff or staff without the relevant experience, or both. Elevated fees have helped a small amount, but have not really made inroads with more staffing. Therefore, the ability to consider applications in a timely manner, let alone consider how to interpret ever changing policies and nuances with planning that are required.

However, it goes much further than one department. There are other departments within LPAs, such as Environmental Health, Highways, Ecology, Heritage, etc. and then a range of other statutory and other consultees, such as the Environment Agency, Natural England, Historic England, National Highways, etc. who have been needlessly decimated in ideological cutbacks.

Then there is non-planning relating public sector cutbacks, where to receive an Environmental Permit from the Environment Agency to undertake works associated with a planning permission (or as permitted development), can take many years to obtain, often with applications appearing to disappear into a black hole, where it is all but impossible to find out what is taking so long or what any issue may be.

The other issue is the “NIMBY” culture, and this starts from the first interaction people get when they hear about a planning application. Inevitably, the Site Notice and webpage directs people to where they may “make your objection,” which is a negative starting point. Where then is the place to support the application? But who can blame people for being against development, when they see no meaningful improvements to local physical infrastructure – such as roads – as well as social infrastructure – such as schools, doctors, dentists, etc. – that are promised. Therefore, new developments are perceived as having a negative impact on a local area, rather than the benefits of much needed housing, public realm, and other enhancements.

Dr Richard Boyle

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