Tuesday 30 October 12pm: Ben Bolgar, senior director at The Prince's Foundation said: "The Letwin Review is a very welcome addition to the housing debate and future housing policy incentives. The scope of the review was concerned with understanding housing delivery rates and so it’s conclusions were clearly constrained by those parameters. The conclusions that delivery rates are constrained by a lack of housing diversity rather than land banking is a positive conclusion in that it doesn’t blame volume house builders for monopolising the market but instead reveals the real issue that their whole model is geared up to delivering a narrow spectrum of homogenous housing types and tenures. If you set foot in a new volume housing development the lack of diversity is fairly obvious from the built form. That is not such an issue at the scale of 30 or 40 homes but a massive issue when you ask volume builders to build 1,500 homes or more. The clue is in the name ‘housebuilders’. That is to say their model is not aimed at ‘placemaking’ or ‘community building’ it is aimed at building houses for a relatively narrow spectrum of people. So ‘diversity’ vs ‘homogeneity’ should be the new mantra or ‘good placemaking’ vs. ‘housebuilding’. This new focus on placemaking to speed up housing delivery shouldn’t stop and housing types and tenures. The next fundamental piece of the jigsaw is to also demand a diversity of employment types integrated into new developments of 1,500 homes or more. This is critical in reducing traffic movement, allowing social mobility and creating a real sense of community. The idea of a Quality Review Panel is a good one but should be made up of people who have hands on experience of having delivered large new mixed use settlements to ensure a practical transfer of knowledge into new schemes and not just an academic oversight."
20.56 Profound concern about the potential use of permitted development rights for retail to housing conversions in town centres is expressed by Trevor Goode, partner in real estate and head of planning and environmental team at law firm Ashurst. He said: "Whilst we welcome the government’s ambition to invigorate the country's high streets and put under-used properties to alternative uses, particularly housing, if this is done through another extension of permitted development rights, it is not the answer. This will see the country shift from one crisis to another. Without adequate planning controls, the government will be creating a legacy of poor quality homes and inadequate infrastructure to support them.
"If the push to utilise permitted development rights is to continue, the government must look at ways to secure developer contributions towards vital infrastructure and to ensure build quality is not compromised. I would hope that the consultation launched alongside the Budget and looking at supporting the high street and increasing the delivery of new homes will take this into consideration."
20.51 Tim Breitmeyer, president of the CLA, which represents landowners, farmers and rural businesses, said: "We are pleased the Letwin Review does not remove the financial incentives for landowners to bring land forward for the building of much needed homes. However, we are concerned that planning authorities would be given the ability to unilaterally decide where large scale housing development should take place, backed up by the threat of compulsory purchase, irrespective of the wishes of the landowner. Compulsory purchase should only ever be a last resort. The primary focus should be on establishing effective partnerships with local landowners, not seeking to forcibly remove their property."
20.45 Melanie Leech, chief executive, British Property Federation, said: "We welcome Sir Oliver Letwin’s recommendations, and in particular, his focus on the need for a more diverse, multi-tenure approach to large sites. The benefits will be three-fold, both helping to address market absorption rates and deliver homes quicker and help to create more sustainable places, home to different demographics, socio-economic backgrounds, fostering a greater sense of community".
On land value capture, she added: "We welcome the Government’s sensible, measured approach to land value uplift. In a noisy environment with multiple views on land value capture being aired, it is pleasing to see such a considered response providing more certainty for developers and local authorities, and enabling more infrastructure provision for local communities".
20.40 Simon Grundy, head of planning – north at consultancy Carter Jonas, said: "The additional £500m within the Housing Infrastructure Fund will help unlock new housing land across the north and a good proportion of the total £5.5bn should be directed to those housing market areas where relatively low values harm viability and delivery".
"The restated commitment to the [Northern} Powerhouse Strategy in general and more specifically to Northern Powerhouse Rail will be welcomed in many parts of the northern region where it had been perceived by some that the Government’s focus had shifted elsewhere."
19.40 Richard Laming, senior director, head of economics at consultancy Turley, said the Budget "has dodged some of the big planning questions of the day". He adds: "Contentious issues, such as ... a response to the Letwin Review on build out rates, were kicked into the long grass".
19:30 The National Infrastructure Commission has warned that "continued and concerted government involvement" is required if it wants to meet its goal of delivering one million new homes in the Oxford-Cambridge arc. The Treasury formally responded today to the NIC's report last autumn on boosting growth in the corridor through new homes and transport links. In a statement, the NIC said the government's ambition "would be need to be underpinned by an increasing focus on integrating the planning of the new transport schemes and housing, to ensure sites are unlocked for new developments through the new rail and road links provided by East-West Rail and the Oxford-Cambridge Expressway".
NIC chairman Sir John Armitt said: "The growth arc is in desperate need of new homes and improved transport links, for the benefit not just of local residents but to the country as a whole. These things won’t happen without continued and concerted effort from government, and today’s measures while welcome will not achieve that on their own. As work continues to deliver the Oxford-Cambridge Expressway and East-West Rail, I hope to see more being done to make the most of these opportunities to deliver new homes as part of new thriving communities – or the economic opportunities that the Growth Arc offer will be missed."
Commissioner Bridget Rosewell said today's measures from the government "don’t go far enough", adding: "There needs to be strong leadership from both central and local government and as we move towards Spending Review next year, I hope to see more being done to help make the most of all that the growth Arc has to offer."
19:00 More reaction coming through...
Speaking about the Letwin Review of build-out rates, John Acres, president of the Royal Town Planning Institute, said: "The recommendations Sir Oliver is making today reflect a full grasp of the fact that untrammelled market forces alone have not been delivering enough homes and will not deliver what the people need, and signal a much overdue strengthening of public sector planning. They follow an intensive year of evidence gathering on an impressive scale involving the RTPI closely at many stages.
"The review echoes the institute’s key concern that the delivery role of the public sector has been limited in recent years to responding to private sector proposals. The review’s recommendations to change this by giving enhanced powers for local authorities to achieve proactive development is very welcome.
"We also support his core proposal that sites need greater diversity in home type and tenure, but believe this needs to be extended across a much wider section of the housing market, not only to very large sites in the remit of this review. The concept of a National Expert Committee is a novel and potentially useful one, and we welcome Sir Oliver’s suggestion that at least one of its members should be a chartered town planner. The expected role of the committee in pre-application is vital to avoid holding up planning appeals."
Responding to the proposals to revise planning rules to revive town centres, Carl Dyer, head of planning at law firm Irwin Mitchell, said: "At last: a sensible planning proposal, albeit a modest one. With the retail sector under pressure with the rise of on-line retailing, it makes sense to look at other uses for the many empty shops around the country. As we have a national housing crisis, converting redundant shops to homes is a "win-win" proposition: assets which are no longer used can be converted to address a separate problem without putting pressure on greenfield land. As shops tend to be in centres or at least local parades, these will be sustainable homes, normally well served by public transport. Adding residents to the retail mix will also improve security in many areas.
"All that said, this alone is not going to make a major difference to the housing supply figures. 2017 was a bad year for retailing, with nearly 6,000 shops closing. Not every vacant shop will be suitable or viable for housing use. Even if as many as half of the 2017 losses were to be converted, that would only be an extra 1% towards the government’s 300,000 a year housing target.
"It will be interesting to see whether there are size limits on the shops which can be converted. And also, whether any form of prior approval is proposed. Hopefully not - if local authorities are given the chance to consider parking or other issues, some will seek to use that to prevent the erosion of shopping frontages. These proposals will work best if there is a straight forward and simple amendment to the General Permitted Development Order- to allow a change of use from class A1 retail use to class C3 housing use (and, of course, any necessary building or engineering works needed to effect the change)."
18:45 Here’s our coverage so far...
Local authorities should have statutory powers to buy large housing sites at prices of around ten times existing use value rather than the 'huge multiples' that currently apply, the government's adviser on increasing the rate at which planning permissions are built out has said in his final report.
The government has proposed introducing a new permitted development (PD) right allowing high street properties to be converted to other uses, the removal of phone kiosk PD rights, and a possible new right to allow the demolition and redevelopment of commercial buildings into housing.
17:52 First reaction coming through now...
Richard Blyth, head of policy and research at the Royal Town Planning Institute, said: "The chancellor’s fiscal measures to support small retailers and support for local councils to help rejuvenate town centres and high street are welcome, but we need to be cautious about making it easier for empty shops to be turned to residential use. Permitted developments rights - whether it is to convert shops to residential use or adding storeys to buildings - do not have a track record of producing quality development and we need to be cautious about their use.
"There are welcoming boosts to the Housing Infrastructure Fund and Transforming Cities Fund, and a £8.5 million of resource support for parishes to allocate or permission land for homes could be potentially useful to create the homes that people want.
"But the critical state of local planning resources, a key RTPI concern, has not been adequately addressed, nor is our call for councils to be able to recover 100 per cent planning administrative costs heeded."
Ian Anderson, partner in consultancy Cushman & Wakefield’s Planning and Development team, said: "The government is right to use planning policy to bring more employment and residential uses to our high streets, which can no longer afford to be so dependent on retail. Encouraging new build homes for private rent (PRS) and co-working spaces are obvious ways of increasing footfall and bringing more dynamism back to local high streets through planning reform.
"Flexibility is the key to keeping high streets alive and thriving, but it still takes far too long to get the necessary planning permissions to transform redundant shops into new uses. The current system of Use Classes is 20 years out of date - it no longer reflects the needs or creativity of modern occupiers and entrepreneurs, complicating the process of getting what should be straight-forward planning permissions. A comprehensive review of Use Classes is long overdue, as is reform of the Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) powers of local authorities that allow councils to intervene on key sites. The government must also embrace Meanwhile Uses, which could help to ensure empty retail units are put to use while waiting for planning permission or redevelopment.
"It is very positive that councils will have access to the Future High Streets Fund, however the chancellor must also make funding directly available to local authority planning teams, which is essential to ensure process planning applications quickly."
Faraz Baber, director of planning and design consultancy Terence O’Rourke, said: "With the government’s commitment to helping improve town centre high streets and make it easier for councils to build more homes, there is a real opportunity for local authorities to make big changes to the make-up of some of their towns and cities, but it is going to need to be done with a carefully considered, joined-up plan. Whilst the rates relief window will help smaller retailers in the short term, the proposed changes to town planning laws could lead to the face of high streets changing considerably and possibly irreversibly. A thriving and sustainable high street needs to be able to adjust to markets trends in an agile way. This is a balancing act which needs to have flexible planning regulations in place, however, this shouldn’t mean a carte blanche approach which simply permits homes coming forward on the high street without a clear vision or masterplan that promotes placemaking. Recent attempts to allow automatic planning consent of converting commercial buildings to residential has seen some mixed results, especially across London and such an ad hoc approach to address the health and vitality of our high streets would not be appropriate.
"The challenge for local planning teams, who are already stretched, is to work out how to put all their pieces of the jigsaw together in a way that is actually going to have a lasting positive impact for generations to come. To think they can do this alone will be the biggest mistake they can make and it will be imperative that they work in partnership with the private sector that has a vested interest in the area, whether they are major occupiers, commercial landlords or housebuilders."
Andy Black, director of consultancy PRP’s Planning Division, said: "PRP is pleased to see that the severe decline of the high streets is continuing to be recognised by central government. The cash injection to local councils for focus on strategies to help high streets is welcomed in addition to the immediate reduction in rates for the owners of many high street shops. We await with interest the proposals to change the use class order to assist in this. However further changes will be required to planning policy to allow for further flexibility to the framework which currently governs retail uses and potential changes to residential. The revised NPPF released earlier in the year was largely unchanged for policies concerning high street and this needs to be radically amended if the measures announced by the Chancellor today are to be delivered."
Mark Hyde, planning partner, Carter Jonas said: "The government’s response on the Arc is overwhelmingly positive and includes specific support for the ‘missing link’ in the proposed East-West Rail between Bedford and Cambridge where the former line has been largely lost to development. The proposal for a ‘ministerial champion’ is a significant elevation underscoring the importance of this project to the government."
Gerald Sweeney, director, at consultancy, WYG said: "The Budget includes suggestions to ease planning restrictions, possibly including new permitted development rights, on converting town centre shops to other uses, including residential. There is a significant need to rejuvenate our high streets if we wish to maintain their critical mass, the ability for linked trips and a sequential approach associated with sustainable development. The ability to easily tax and collect 'bricks and mortar' has been only a small part in the overall demise associated with the open market approach of the internet. The Budget recognises that this isn’t reversable, so a new approach is essential. Significant other contributing factors to internet shopping includes a lack of adequate car parking, complicated landownerships when it comes to redevelopment proposals and a lack of variety in the shopping offers. If we are to be successful and positively enable our high streets, then we must move away from planning restricting us and promote multi-functional retailing with social spaces that create a sense of place within their local area. Town centres need to be a local destination of choice, not somewhere only for a single convenience shop without the opportunity for linked trips.
"In the main, permitted development rights allow mixed use residential development to be successful. The revitalising of old and obsolete offices has delivered much needed residential units that people can afford and offers something different to the standard sub-urban new build. These units are neither better nor worse but importantly, they are different - variety is needed to begin the process of healing our town centres but we must go much further with new planning laws allowing new development to build up and increase density levels."
14:15 The chancellor is due to deliver his Budget at 15:30 this afternoon.
Ahead of this, Planning has oulined the key planning announcements to look out for in the Budget.