Housing revolution: the death of localism part two

Announcements yesterday by the PM were supposed to revolutionise housing policy, particularly as it was only last month that Theresa May made it her ‘personal mission to build the homes this country needs’. However the new draft National Planning Policy Framework was underwhelming to say the least, let alone revolutionary.

The only thing that may rock the boat was that the Government has now hinted that councils must meet higher housebuilding targets… or else.

If adopted, the new NPPF will implement the Housing Delivery Test, which will determine how many homes councils must build based on local house prices, wages and key worker numbers. Higher targets will be set for areas where house prices outstrip annual earnings, meaning it will finally ‘explicitly take into account the market prices’, according to Housing Secretary Sajid Javid.

What is more interesting is that new policy indicates - although it doesn’t explicitly establish - that where councils fail to meet these new targets, they will then be stripped of the right to decide what is built within their boundaries making planning inspectors, (who are, effectively, civil servants) in charge of these decisions instead.

Whilst this policy would appear to be a welcome change for developers (and a real blow to NIMBYs), it does seem like another step away from the Localism Act 2011, where councils were given more powers to shape the future of communities in their area. It will instead put councils under even more pressure as local house prices will be considered for the first time when setting local housebuilding targets, which will be a real challenge in fast-growing but expensive areas such as Oxford and Cambridge.

Some would argue that by having these powers, councils should be held more accountable for housing delivery. Just last week, homelessness charity Crisis blamed the Localism Act for the current state of homelessness. In her speech yesterday, Theresa May hinted that local authorities bear at least some responsibility for the housing crisis. This is especially thought-provoking, as four of the fifteen councils identified as being at risk from Government intervention are Conservative-run and where house prices are at their highest, deep in the Tory heartlands.

Some argue that councillors have just been used as a scapegoat for Government failure to address the housing needs of the country. They suggest the real issue is that whilst it’s great to encourage councils to set build out rates and deliver ambitious local plans, the last time the country delivered 300,000 homes each year, councils were responsible for more than 40% of them – the ultimate localism.

At the end of the day, this move away from localism will put councillors in a difficult position with the prevalence of NIMBYism; do they fear the wrath of Whitehall more than they fear the wrath of an angry NIMBY? Only time will tell.

This article was written by Edie Bond, Account Manager at MPC.