Sector laments policy flaws

PPS3 is on the right lines but some feel that the policy does not go far enough, says Vivien Wilson.

The government's long-awaited planning policy statement on housing has caused a stir right through the industry.

The emphasis placed by PPS3 (Planning, 1 December, p1) on brownfield development, more flexibility for local authorities, affordable family housing, good design and tougher environmental standards has been well received. But most organisations believe that some things could have been done better.

While the British Property Federation (BPF) welcomes evidence-based criteria for assessing supply, demand and needs, it is alarmed by definitions of affordable housing that it feels will actually reduce the overall supply. Director for residential policy Ian Fletcher thinks that securing affordable housing in perpetuity is a regressive step.

"At a time when the country desperately needs homes for those who are ineligible for social housing and cannot afford to buy, the government has decided to constrain rather than encourage flexibility," he laments.

"This guidance means that the government may get more social housing from developer contributions but will get less housing overall."

Fletcher proposes 20-year nomination rights for local authorities before properties revert to private developers. This would increase social housing provision in the medium term while ensuring high quality because developers would have an active interest in the product that would return to them, he argues.

RTPI head of policy and practice Rynd Smith applauds commitments to brownfield development and planning on a 15-year timescale. "These policies reinforce our efficient use of urban land and send the signals necessary to plan, invest in and deliver necessary infrastructure for sustainable development," he says.

The guidelines require planners to consider the needs of children for the first time, providing green space as well as more family homes. Smith approves of the guidelines' focus on "lifetime neighbourhoods" incorporating attractive high-quality family housing that moves towards zero carbon emissions and reduced energy use.

He also believes that the government's promise to provide more affordable housing, especially in rural areas, is overdue. "For too long we have been wary of building in sufficient quantities in villages and other rural locations. It is essential to the continued life of these communities to provide for the future," he insists.

The Country Land and Business Association agrees that more mixed communities are needed in rural areas. "We have finally persuaded the government to recognise that housing in rural areas matters," says president David Fursdon.

"These are ideal areas for provision of integrated land use and PPS3 recognises the need for housing and jobs for rural communities."

However, Fursdon is concerned that PPS3 does not go far enough. "It is encouraging to see that landowners will be able to use the open housing market to cross-subsidise affordable housing in rural areas. But it is down to local planning authorities to have the courage to make this happen," he concludes.

The Town and Country Planning Association highlights the encouragement PPS3 gives to local authorities to determine housing densities and the proportion of homes on brownfield land. It also sees extra flexibility for councils and developers in determining urban form as a major step forward.

"It is right to give local authorities more responsibility to tailor policies to the needs of their communities," says chief executive Gideon Amos. "However, this must be in the context of clear national priorities on how best to meet the twin challenges of housing need and climate change."

The Northern Way is delighted that its calls for reform of the numbers system in planning homes have been heard. "PPS3 is a great step forward," says head of sustainable communities James Cruddas. "It recognises the different challenges in different parts of the country and provides much-needed regional and local flexibility."

Home Builders Federation executive chairman Stewart Baseley agrees that the government finally seems committed to creating an improved supply of homes. "We welcome PPS3's emphasis on identifying sufficient developable land, which is the key to consistently delivering the full range of housing our society wants," he maintains.

"This is crucial if the industry is to invest in further improvements in quality and design," Baseley notes. However, he is adamant that active monitoring and assessment of the revised policy is vital. "We shall be pressing the government to pay full attention to effective monitoring," he adds.

But rival political parties are lining up to put the boot in. Liberal Democrat housing spokesman Dan Rogerson says: "The government may have identified the problem but is devoid of ideas on how to solve our housing crisis. Rather than issuing yet further guidance, local councils should be given more flexibility to solve their communities' needs."

Rogerson suggests that allowing local authorities to retain more family-sized homes instead of seeing them turned into flats, and in some instances allowing flat conversions to be restored to family homes, would help young families struggling to get on the property ladder.

The Conservatives accuse the government of failing to stop over-development of neighbourhoods by keeping the definition of gardens as brownfield land.

"Labour's national planning rules as laid down by Whitehall are creating a surplus of pokey flats and a shortage of family homes with gardens," complains Tory shadow minister for housing and planning Michael Gove.

"The rules continue to impose arbitrary density targets on local neighbourhoods," he warns. "England's gardens still face the threat of the bulldozer and concrete mixer. We should allow local communities real freedom to protect the environment and decide what is best suited for their neighbourhood."

Some in the private sector feel that the job has been left unfinished.

"We are pleased to see the issues surrounding brownfield against greenfield development and better housing design move further up the agenda," says Donaldsons head of London planning Shaun Andrews. "But it is disappointing that the big issues around climate change have effectively been parked, awaiting further guidance."

In this context, Andrews fears that the statement fundamentally fails to engage with the debate on property renovation. Since new build adds only two per cent to total building stock annually, he argues that "green refurbishment" of buildings is the most sustainable option.

"The property sector is looking to government to help develop a business case for the encouragement of retrofitting through stamp duty, capital allowances and business rates incentives," claims Andrews. "We need an holistic and effective strategy for the built environment, but this looks to be a long way off."

PPS3 is available at PlanningResource.co.uk/doc.

PPS3 ON HOUSING: KEY POLICY DIRECTIONS

- Local authorities must bring forward more land for housing, planning 15 years ahead to prevent delays.

- Housing and neighbourhoods must be well designed and local planning authorities should turn down poor-quality planning applications.

- Planners must consider the environment, sustainablility and the need to cut carbon dioxide emissions.

- Local authorities must prioritise brownfield development but can set their own targets.

- Councils have more flexibility to decide where houses are built.

- Affordable housing, especially in rural areas, is a priority.


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