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Published: 29 June 2017
Area of Law: Planning

What now for the broken housing market?

In February, the (then) Conservative majority government presented the Housing White Paper – Fixing our broken housing market to parliament. The White Paper described itself as a “bold radical vision for housing in this country” and it made a number of reasonable points (we need more housing, we need to find ways to speed delivery, and so on).

In the recent Queen’s Speech, the government reaffirmed their commitment to delivering the proposals which were consulted upon following the publication of the White Paper. 

However, the belief inherent in the White Paper, that the system will be reformed by people suddenly experiencing something akin to a ‘road to Damascus’ revelation that they need to deliver more local housing in their own communities appears to me to be a case of wishful thinking, when, as the White Paper acknowledges, some councils currently “duck difficult decisions and don’t plan for the homes their area needs”.

Another sticking plaster?

It will be interesting to see how many local councillors heed the government’s exhortation to deliver a quick fix to problems which have been many years in the making, and, if all the measures the White Paper contains ultimately find their way in to policy, whether the government are ultimately willing to take on the major housebuilders or underperforming authorities (particularly in traditional Conservative heartlands or marginal seats) and force them to deliver more housing, or whether political pressures ultimately mean that the White Paper is simply empty rhetoric and not the “radical, lasting reform” which it states the system needs.

In my view, whilst the White Paper represents another step along the road it merely suggests ways in which “our broken housing market” might be fixed (and in that sense is another sticking plaster proposal).  Where as, for many, the prevailing belief remains that any holistic review of the housing market and the role of planning within that system must include a review of the role and polices pertaining to the Green Belt. 

The White Paper does not do this, and, if anything suggests that it might become even harder to secure development in the Green Belt going forward, which is hardly bold or radical, but rather deeply pragmatic and conservative with both a small ‘c’ and a capital one given the Conservative’s manifesto pledge to maintain the strong protection which “designated land like the Green Belt, National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty enjoy.” (A point which was echoed in the Labour manifesto).

What’s next?

A revised edition of the National Planning Policy Framework is expected this year (albeit this looks like it will be delayed until the autumn at the earliest as a consequence of the Election).  Whether the now completed consultation process emboldens the government to go further when this is published, or causes them to go back in to their shells, we will have to wait and see but, having just had their fingers monumentally burned at a time when they thought they were going to win comfortably, I can’t see the current government even contemplating tackling the issue of Green Belt release whatever planning reforms they ultimately seek to bring forward.

With political uncertainty set to continue for the foreseeable future, the prospect of a further general election before any final conclusion of the Brexit process seems likely.  All of which means that there is unlikely to be a great deal of parliamentary time available for attempts to fix the “broken housing market” and means that the current system will probably not change radically in the foreseeable future.

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