Major housing proposals 'should be considered under NSIP regime'

Major housing proposals of 5,000 units or more should be decided under the fast-track Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) planning regime, a report by a coalition of business, industry, academic and environment leaders has recommended.

Housing: report says that large schemes should be seen as nationally significant
Housing: report says that large schemes should be seen as nationally significant

The National Needs Assessment (NNA) has been produced by a coalition chaired by Institution of Civil Engineers president Sir John Armitt, who is interim deputy chair of the government’s infrastructure advisor the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC).

According to the NNA document, it is intended to provide the NIC with a "blueprint" for its first National Infrastructure Assessment - an analysis of the UK’s infrastructure needs over a 10 to 30 year horizon, due to be published in 2018.

"[The NNA] guides the NIC towards the immediate infrastructure interventions that are required now, the decisions needed to deliver services for the next generation and scenarios for our infrastructure needs until 2050", the document says.

Topics covered in the document include transport, energy, digital communications, water, flood management, solid waste and housing.

On housing, the report says that there is "ongoing debate about the relationship of housing and infrastructure and whether housing should in fact be classified as infrastructure".

It recommends that "major housing proposals (approximately 5,000 units or more) should be considered as part of the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) planning regime".

"If approved under this regime, individual housing proposals would have in-principle government support and housing developers could then develop them in detail in partnership with local authorities and other organisations, and in combination with the required on and off-site infrastructure" the report says.

Currently, only schemes of up to 500 units are eligible for consideration via the development consent process, provided they are related to a nationally significant infrastructure project. 

The report identifies "chronically under-resourced" planning departments as a "key challenge" to delivering the scale of housing required to meet demand.

Following the raft of changes to the planning system in recent years, and further changes in the pipeline, the report says that additional changes "are not therefore required".

But it adds that "adequately resourced planning departments are crucial to the effective delivery of development.

"Allowing local authorities to set and vary planning fees in accordance with the needs of their local area … and ensuring this is ring-fenced for expenditure on planning and development, would help to boost the capacity of local planning authorities to properly plan for and manage housing delivery."

Elsewhere, the report says that the NIC should undertake a "comprehensive review of public land available for housing" and, once completed, it should "seek out opportunities to unlock this land for development through the provision of economic infrastructure".

It also says that government "must ensure local authorities who wish to build social housing have access to the funds to do so".

"The current restrictions on the ability of local authorities to borrow to build social housing are arbitrary and anomalous. Local authorities should be able to borrow to build social housing as they can for other purposes", the report says.

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