Reflections on the Housing White Paper

We finished our event series on the HWP yesterday, and before the memory starts to fade I thought I’d try to set out my thoughts. This is a personal reflection rather than the FAQ (and member briefing) on the HWP that we have separately promised to make.

What the HWP means for Local Plans

Most obviously the HWP disrupts the local plan system in three ways

  • The new standard national methodology for making plan housing targets is going to change one of the fundamental inputs to a plan for many places
  • The clarification that “up to date” means less than five years old is to me the biggest change that no one is making a fuss about. Do you know how many of the 360 councils out there have successfully reviewed a plan in under 5 years before ? The answer is a handful – 2.7% – this is not something that councils are just suddenly going to be able to do
  • Offering some sort of solution is the requirement for councils to have strategic policies but not necessarily in a local plan. Some groups of councils will conclude that the cost of a 4-year plan review cycle is too much, and that they broadly agree on the future of their place and so will share plan-making between themselves. We can expect financial necessity to be the mother of some sorts of invention here.

On balance I think these changes create a shift to shorter plan-making horizons, which is a mixed blessing. On the plus side a shorter cycle of feedback and review makes plans (and therefore policies) more responsive to the market, and too many plans are suffering by being compared to guesses made by people 5 or 6 years ago. However, set against that is the principle that long-term plans are required to make investment decisions in things like roads and hospitals. It’s not something I pretend to have an informed view on, but it seems to me that most investment decisions are driven by patterns of economic activity rather than local plan documents – especially when the local plan document is demonstrably an out of date and bad guess of what was going to happen. Shorter, quicker = better.

What the HWP means for delivery

One of the things that our regional tour brought into sharp focus is that the housing market is not just a big, complicated and interconnected thing – it is also plays out differently across the country.

This is one of the reasons that getting councils to focus on delivery is probably going to be a two-step process. The first is to establish what is going on – and the requirement on councils to publish an action plan (sorry – Action Plan)  should allow us collectively to come to an understanding of market forces and their application in different areas.

The idea that councils, acting alone, can “fix” delivery is a non-starter. But the idea that they can play a role collecting facts and acting as a coordinating ring-master puts us back in “place shaping” territory. I’m not sure whether I’m concerned or reassured that this is a concept that is just over a decade old.

What the HWP means for councils

Most people we met were genuinely interested and beginning to be enthused by the HWP. It is a consultation, so almost everything juicy is subject to further development and therefore lacking in detail.

It is the case that there are several new things to appear on our “to do” list. Most of them could be framed positively and constructively, or they might lead to consultant capture and new paperwork industries that introduce cost without real benefit to anyone.

Our DCLG colleagues on tour were keen to draw peoples attention to consultation Question 30 that suffered a little by being on its own and slightly hidden over the page so I will repeat it here:

Question 30
What support would be most helpful to local planning authorities in increasing housing
delivery in their areas?

I have already made the case to government that PAS support should be part of our collective response to some of these new asks. There are some really obvious areas where I hope we can help reduce mindless templates and paperwork. So feel free to set us to work – and what is clear from the regional tour is that the work required in councils will vary around the country.

 

 

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