Buoyed with revised forecasts from the OBR, the chancellor certainly had more wiggle room on Budget day than many expected, but there are questions over how his Despatch Box announcements will impact on the delivery of much needed new housing.
An extension (albeit a temporary one) of Help to Buy and the roll-out of backdated stamp duty relief for first time buyers of shared ownership property will likely provide a welcome boost to the voting public seeking to get on the property ladder. There was also a stimulus package to support smaller house builders as well as strategic partnerships with nine Housing Associations across England.
More intriguing perhaps were the announcements on reforming the planning system, and the Budget also coincided with the long-trailed Letwin Review.
The Letwin Review was announced at Budget 2017 and, following some initial analysis published in June 2018, we now have the full recommendations. It makes for interesting reading. Critically, and counter to many of the more sensationalist headlines, Letwin found no evidence to support the allegations of so-called Land Banking levelled against many developers. The real reasons behind the gap between planning consent and housing delivery are, as many planners would attest, far more complex. So complex in fact, that the Chancellor announced that the response to the report will not be published until February next year.
Letwin’s recommendations relate particularly to the largest development sites (i.e. those with more than 1,500 homes) and would potentially see planning rules requiring developers to offer a range of "housing products" (which already happens to a large extent), and allowance for a bigger role for councils. When responding to the report, the government will need to be wary of making a complex system (particularly for large sites) even more complicated for developers and stretched local authorities.
For now, though, it looks as though loosening the rules, rather than extending them, is the order of the day, with the Budget itself seemingly signalling that a large part of the government’s strategy is centred on reducing the range of development that requires planning permission.
There was significant, and welcome, attention paid by Mr Hammond to the retail sector and struggling high streets, and part of the solution to these locations is to encourage more diversity in key locations through extending Permitted Development Rights (PDR). This is a welcome step in the right direction, with the hope being that bringing residential and introducing a wider range of uses into the high street will create opportunities to both to fill in gaps in vacancy and drive footfall to traditional retailers.
At the same time, included within details were further PDR proposals on upwards extensions which suggests that as many as five storeys might be added to certain buildings without planning permission. Even if this were to go head, there would of course be checks and balances introduced – but this has the potential to be transformational to increasingly dense urban centres like London.
Although many commentators have said that the government’s moves do not go far enough, and in this context scrutiny will intensify over how any of this will actually support the commitment to delivering 300,000 new homes a year.