Former planning minister calls for sanctions on slow housebuilders

Housebuilders who fail to complete permitted housing to the schedule set out in their planning application should be required to offer the vacant plots to rivals at the price that they paid for them, according to former planning minister and Tory MP Nick Boles.

Former planning minister Nick Boles
Former planning minister Nick Boles

The proposal is contained in Boles’ new book, Square Deal, which is being published in instalments. It says that the government should introduce a requirement that housebuilders "offer at book value any plots that they fail to build out on schedule to other builders who are willing to start building immediately".

The measure would go beyond the ideas trialed by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) over the past year for ensuring that housing permissions are built out. These include: reducing the standard duration of permissions from three to two years, requiring housebuilders to notify planning authorities of construction timescales, and allowing councils to take developers' track records on build-out into account when considering applications.

Boles also calls for a change in compulsory purchase laws to give local authorities and development corporations the power to buy land at current use value. "It would be a mistake to restrict the new powers to brownfield sites, as was proposed in the last Conservative manifesto, as large urban extensions will usually involve a mixture of brownfield and greenfield land," the book says.

The government has already stated its intention of beefing up public bodies’ compulsory purchase powers. But there is currently uncertainty about when the plans will be implemented. Regulations implementing Neighbourhood Planning Act provisions seeking to clarify and codify the "no scheme" rule, which dictates that any increase or decrease in value arising from the scheme underlying a compulsory purchase order (CPO) is to be disregarded in assessing compensation liability, are still due. The Tory election manifesto also promised to make it easier for local authorities' to use CPOs, but there was no mention of this in the Queen's Speech.

The former planning minister is also trying to revive the proposal to allow residential property owners in urban or suburban areas to build one- or two-storey upward extensions without making a planning application.

In 2016, the DCLG and the mayor of London consulted on options for "incentivising greater 'building up'" across London. The consultation proposed that upward extensions could be built up to the roofline of an adjoining building through a new permitted development right (PDR), local development orders, or London Plan policies.

But in a document published earlier this year alongside the Housing White Paper, the DCLG said that more than half of consultation responses believed a "one-size-fits-all" permitted development right to be "unworkable". Instead, the DCLG's response to the consultation says that the National Planning Policy Framework will be amended to "support the delivery of additional homes by building up", across the country, not just in London.

However, Boles’ book says that the government should introduce such a permitted development right for any residential property in an urban or suburban area but outside a conservation area. "This should allow the addition of one or two storeys up to a maximum of four storeys without the need for planning permission but subject to a design code specifying architectural style and materials so that the character of an area is maintained," it says.

Finally, Boles calls for the government to relaunch its Homes and Communities Agency as the Grenfell Housing Commission, charged with the responsibility of building half a million mostly affordable new homes over the next ten years.

To help ensure it achieves this, the commission "should be given the responsibility of setting up development corporations in concert with directly elected mayors and other local councils around the country," the book says. "Access to the commission’s funding would be conditional on the commitment of local holdings of public land and the contractual agreement of ambitious targets and timescales for new house building". All the commission’s homes "should all offer an easy route to ownership", Boles says.


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