Government promises to build 150,000 new affordable homes over the next four years are under threat because of its decision to abolish regional plans in England, a cross-party committee of MPs has warned
The Regional Spatial Strategies (RSSs) introduced under Labour were often criticised for imposing house-building schemes on communities, sometimes in protected Green Belt land. The Localism Bill now going through Parliament will scrap them and hand decisions on new homes down to local level.
But today’s report warned that the loss of RSSs will leave a ‘vacuum at the heart of the English planning system’ which will ‘hamper the UK’s economic recovery and delay new house building’.
Research suggests that in the 10 months since Communities Secretary Eric Pickles announced his intention to scrap RSSs, the number of homes coming through the planning system has dropped by more than 200,000, said the report.
The Government’s hopes of boosting house-building rest in part on financial incentives available to local authorities under the New Homes Bonus scheme.
As currently designed, the Bonus ‘risks giving councils an incentive to permit new house-building of the wrong type and in the wrong places’, said the committee’s Labour chairman Clive Betts (pictured).
National Housing Federation chief executive David Orr said: ‘The select committee’s report echoes the Federation’s warnings about the Government’s hasty and damaging dismantling of the planning system before it was able to put anything in its place.
‘However, with 4.5 million people in England in housing need, the priority now must be to ensure the new localised planning system effectively delivers new affordable homes.’
Planning Minister Bob Neill said: ‘Under the Coalition Government’s reforms, councils now have a clear financial incentive to build from the New Homes Bonus.
‘Latest figures from the National Housebuilding Council and from the Office for National Statistics already show a surge of optimism from a construction industry that is beginning to build again.’
Kate Henderson, chief executive of the Town and Country Planning Association said:
‘Today’s report is an important milestone in setting out the importance of a fit for purpose planning system which must offer a strong mechanism for planning large areas where strategic issues are too big in scale or timeframe to be resolved within a single local planning authority area.What is most striking is that the planning system (outside London, which retains its regional London Plan) will have to deal with the challenges of housing shortages, demographic change, economic recovery and climate change at a time when both the framework and the resources have been significantly reduced.
‘In assessing the housing need of their communities, it is important that local authorities consider both local needs and wider patterns of housing demand. The removal of the regional tier means that comprehensive guidance is needed to ensure an open, fair and consistent approach at the local level.
‘The Committee report rightly highlights that the effectiveness and fairness of the new planning regime will depend not just on the Localism Bill, but also on a wider package of changes – including the introduction of the New Homes Bonus, designed to incentivise housing growth, changes to Housing Benefit, and a new National Planning Policy Framework, which will set the key national policy direction for planning.’