Planning for Housing: HCA wants government to replace ATLAS team, says director

The government's housing and regeneration quango is trying to persuade the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) to replace its team that advised on large planning applications, one of its directors has revealed.

Stephen Kinsella speaking at the conference yesterday
Stephen Kinsella speaking at the conference yesterday

Stephen Kinsella, executive director for land at the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA), was speaking yesterday at the Planning for Housing conference.

The Advisory Team for Large Applications (ATLAS) unit helped to unblock and speed up large and complex planning applications and advised both local authorities and developers.

It was axed by the HCA following staffing cuts recommended in last year's DCLG Tailored Review, said Kinsella.

Speaking at a session on speeding up housing land supply, Kinsella said the loss of ATLAS was "a real shame", adding: "There’s no question it leaves a void. We’ve raised it with the department. If we can’t actively support our local authority partners where they are lacking their own resource, then developments are just paralysed.

"It’s a live issue, and we are talking to government about it. Hopefully, we will get a positive result.

"Whether it’s another ATLAS, or whether it’s resources to support local authorities with development work more widely, as well as planning – that’s a conversation."

Kinsella said there was also a "recognition in government" that authorities had lost most of the housing and regeneration resources they used to have and "something needs to be done about that".

He also revealed that the HCA is preparing a strategy to boost the number of homes built using modern methods of construction (MMC).

"It’s absolutely clear to me that if we are getting from 190,000 homes a year to 250,000 homes a year, we can’t do it just by traditional methods," said Kinsella. "We need to introduce MMC. Our job is to create space for this innovation to happen."

Kinsella said the emerging strategy, to be published "early next year", would involve the agency demanding its use by developers as a condition of receiving funding or working on land it owns.

"But we need to be careful that it doesn’t stop development," he added.

He also advised councils to "allocate more sites and focus on smaller sites because we can’t just rely on large sites for production".

The HCA becomes Homes England in two weeks’ time, said Kinsella, adding that the new body would have a "different agenda and leadership from the HCA".

He promised that Homes England would have a "more active approach", including a focus on "finding and buying land and intervening in the market" as well as "speeding up delivery".

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