Government agency to back planning drive for housing diversity through funding choices

Funding decisions made by the government's housing agency for England will complement promised planning changes in encouraging a greater diversity of housing types on large sites, the Mipim property conference heard last week.

Build-to-rent: more likely to receive infrastructure funding, says Homes England chief
Build-to-rent: more likely to receive infrastructure funding, says Homes England chief

In his government-commissioned review of the rate at which planning permissions for housing are built out, published last year, Sir Oliver Letwin said that large sites would be built out more quickly if they comprised a greater mix of housing types and tenures.

In a response published as part of the Spring Statement announcements last week, housing secretary James Brokenshire said his department would "shortly publish additional planning guidance on housing diversification – to further encourage large sites to support a diverse range of housing needs, and help them build out more quickly".

Speaking in the UK government pavilion at Mipim shortly after the announcement, Homes England general manager (infrastructure and complex projects) Sophie White said that the agency's infrastructure funding would be more likely to go to large site developers who were "thinking about build-to-rent, thinking about retirement living, and bringing in small developers".

She added: "Any developer coming in with a purely sale model is unlikely to get a huge amount of enthusiasm".

Earlier, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government director-general of housing Jeremy Pocklington had said: "We encourage Homes England to be focussing on new areas and new sectors - including small developers and modern methods of construction. In terms of the billions of pounds of programme money that we deliver, we deliberately want to use that to support new sectors".

Home Builders Federation deputy chairman Peter Andrew told delegates that the industry was already providing a greater mix of housing on large schemes. "I think big sites are already starting to look at much more diversity in the product that's been delivered," he said. "If this is built into schemes early enough, it drives right through to the landowners and what their expectations are".

White also told delegates that some planning authorities needed to do more to support small developers. "If you come in as a big corporate trying to get planning, that perhaps is a smoother path than for an SME," she said.

But Andrew said that last year's revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) would create a friendlier planning environment for small housebuilders, for example through its provision that ten per cent of councils' housing requirements must be accommodated on small sites.

"One of the issues of the original NPPF was that it drove larger sites, so the new one is trying to change that," he said. "We won't see if that will be really beneficial for some years, but I think it will be as much a step change as the [requirement] for a five year housing land supply was in the first NPPF".


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