Government's housing agency aims to rebuild planning capacity

The government's housing and regeneration agency will boost its planning capacity as it seeks to deliver on its growing brief, chairman Sir Edward Lister has said.

Sir Edward Lister
Sir Edward Lister

In last week's Budget, chancellor Philip Hammond confirmed that the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) would be renamed Homes England, and would "expand" to help support local authorities and developers in delivering new housing and infrastructure.

Speaking at the Institute of Economic Development conference in London on Thursday, Lister said that the agency would soon begin to increase its workforce, after a period in which there had been staff cuts approaching 40 per cent. "We are going to need to ramp up significantly to meet the demands which are out there," he said.

Talking to Planning after his speech, Lister said the agency would need more planners and would revive its team that advised local authorities and developers on major applications.

The Advisory Team for Large Applications was axed by the agency following staffing cuts recommended in a Department for Communities and Local Government review.

Lister also said that the agency would in future seek to make more use of its planning powers.

"The HCA has for a long time had a lot of planning, compulsory purchase and land assembly powers that it has never used," he said. "The secretary of state is making it pretty clear that he wants to see us use those powers where it is applicable and where it is the right thing to do."

He emphasised that the Budget has given the agency significant extra resources to invest in land. After years in which the HCA's government funding had focused on boosting demand through the Help to Buy scheme, "we have now got a much greater fund for getting involved in the supply side," he said.

The increased agency funding for land acquisition should give people confidence that the government can deliver on its Budget promise of five new development corporations to kick-start garden towns, Lister said. 

"Up to now most of the money that has gone into garden towns and garden villages has been capacity funding of one sort or another to enable them to put the planning system in place," he said. "But I think now you will see us take a more aggressive stance on land."

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