Planning reform must be bold and decisive for housebuilding to thrive

Christian May
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Eco Town Specialises In Environmentally Sound Housing
This latest announcement is a step in the right direction (Source: Getty)

Almost all of the noise coming out of Westminster concerns Brexit.

But amid the sound of Leavers and Remainers shouting over each other, some ministers are determined to make their voices heard on other matters.

Take Sajid Javid, for example. The secretary of state for communities and local government survived the recent reshuffle and emerged with “housing” tacked on to his job title. The Tories have talked about putting housebuilding at the heart of their plan, but as with other areas touted for major reform, change takes time and often stubbornly refuses to fit into an electoral cycle.

Changes to the planning framework can take years to filter down to the ground, and there is rarely a silver bullet. Instead, a range of tweaks and changes to both the supply and demand side are unveiled and implemented with varying degrees of success.

Read more: Housebuilders remain optimistic about the future

The Treasury, also keen to deliver on housing reform, has been tinkering for years with incentives and schemes to ease the purchase of property, but without a meaningful increase in the supply of homes the market ends up skewed and distorted.

While projects such as new towns and brownfield developments grind their way through local government, Javid is keen to grab elements of the planning system by the collar and shake things up a bit. A fine example of this is a loosening of rules aimed at freeing up home-owners and developers to add additional storeys to existing properties.

The “build up, not out” strategy has been advanced by backbench MPs and housing ministers from as far back as 2013, and yesterday’s announcement that planning guidance to local councils will pivot in favour of such development is a welcome move.

Javid says “we need to be more creative and make more effective use of the space we already have”. He’s entirely correct, but for some, including former planning minister Nick Boles, it doesn’t go far enough.

Boles advocated removing the requirement for planning permission entirely, and given the pressing need to make better use of existing property, as well as building new homes, it’s hard to disagree with him.

Still, this latest announcement is a step in the right direction – and when it comes to housing, every little helps.

Read more: Sky's the limit: New plans to ease housing woes will let you build upwards

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