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The Housing Bill represents a fundamental shift in how we think about development

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The Housing Bill has promise but with it comes challenges, says Mark Stitch

The Housing and Planning Bill is likely to affect us all in one way or another – its announcement brings to the fore a number of significant  issues that have long needed to be addressed to accelerate the delivery of much needed housing in the UK.

As a national planning practice, the Bill is welcome – it is the opportunity to drive important development, inject life into the housing market, remove previously obstructive barriers to housebuilding and direct strategic development where it is needed most. The Bill has promise, but to capitalise on this opportunity we need to consider some conflicts within the Government’s wider legislative agenda and examine issues that have been missed.  

What immediately strikes you about the Bill is its breadth, covering everything from starter homes, to Right to Buy, to changes to the planning system itself. With this scope and ambition, whatever its outcome, the Bill represents a fundamental shift in the way we think about development and planning.

In its haste to find a quick-fire solution to the housing crisis there are conflicts with existing initiatives

It is a positive step in the right direction, but in its haste to find a quick-fire solution to the housing crisis as it rapidly climbs the political agenda, there are some conflicts with existing initiatives and bills that should be addressed if the legislation is to be a success.

The most notable example of this clash is with the City and Regions Devolution Bill, which enters its second reading today (Wednesday 14 October). The Housing and Planning Bill gives the Secretary of State powers to intervene and speed up the preparation of Neighbourhood Plans. While on the face of it this inclusion is clearly important and worthwhile, it is somewhat nullified by the Devolution Bill’s purpose – to create combined authorities with the powers to guide, deliver and accelerate development.

This complication needs to be ironed out, as, if both bills continue on their current course, they could become the barriers they were intended to remove – hindering development and slowing delivery.

This being said, no bill is perfect at its conception and we should not overlook the importance of progressive proposals, such as to grant in principle planning permission for Brownfield land – as this will spur regeneration and help us to think of how we can best use the space we have. 

It has veered away from the thorny issue of Green Belt protection

This new approach to Brownfield land is welcome, but, unsurprisingly, the Bill has veered away from the thorny but important issue of Green Belt protection. There is a growing school of thought that lower quality areas of the Green Belt should be reviewed, as to a large extent we are currently spatially constrained by existing Brownfield land. From a political perspective it is an understandable omission, but, in the interests of stimulating the building of essential housing, it is important that we open the debate on how to sensitively develop the Green Belt without

Planning by its nature is a complicated process. We need Bills that empower both local planning authorities and the people who need new, affordable housing. The shift in thinking on these issues is welcome and long overdue and should be the catalyst to kick-off a wider debate on how we house the country and use our spaces most effectively.

The foundations have been laid for important change and amendments can be made and new ideas introduced. To convert this positivity into physical bricks and mortar we need cohesion between Bills, public engagement with the issue and a clearly defined overall strategy from the Government.

Mark Stitch is a senior partner at Barton Willmore

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