Yesterday the Labour Party published the long-awaited Lyons Housing Review, the report it commissioned Sir Michael Lyons to undertake to look into issues of housing supply and delivery.
Ed Miliband had already announced the party's ambition to develop 200,000 homes a year by 2020, but prior to the publication of the report the detail of how this would be achieved had been fairly light.
The report contains 39 recommendations in total, some of which the party had already announced it would adopt as policy.
Use it or lose-it
The so-called 'use it or lose it' policy, criticised by some in the industry when first announced last year, has been fleshed out; the report recommends giving Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) power to levy a charge if land that has been allocated in a Local Plan is not brought forward for development within five years. The report also suggests reducing the life of a planning permission from three years to two and amending the definition of commencement to require more substantive work.
New Homes Corporations
The report provides further detail on New Homes Corporations, announced by Mr Miliband at the Labour Party conference in September. These would be created by statute and have delegated development control powers, with a particular focus on allocated Local Plan sites where development had previously stalled.
Brownfield first policy
Sir Michael recommends amending the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) to introduce a brownfield first policy with a sequential test for development. This is something that the party had previously mooted, whilst stating that it would not seek to abolish the NPPF itself.
Right to grow
More detail is provided on the 'right to grow', another policy announced last year that some in the industry had questioned. The report suggests that groups of authorities that cover more than one Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA) could come together to create a Strategic Housing Market Plan (SHMP), which would have statutory weight and must then be taken into account when developing and updating Local Plans. However, the report also suggests that the Secreatry of State should have the power to require LPAs to complete a SHMP, following a request by one of the authorities, the Local Enterprise Partnership or the Planning Inspectorate (PINS).
Housing Growth Areas
Sir Michael recommends the creation of new Housing Growth Areas, which would enable local authorities to "issue a call to landowners to pool or sell their land or transfer it as an equity stake in a joint venture". Landowners who do not co-operate could be subject to new compulsory purchase powers. However, the report suggests that in such areas, the sale of homes should be restricted for a period of time to local people before being more widely marketed.
Public sector land
On public sector land, Sir Michael acknowledges in the report that its release is not a "silver bullet", but that there is "an opportunity to apply creative approaches to the use of public land more widely to drive an early and significant uplift in the number of homes built". The report recommends providing clear guidance to local and national government and suggests a target of the release of sites to develop 200,000 homes between 2015 and 2020. The report also suggests reforming the role of the Homes and Communities Agency so that it becomes the "national delivery agency", acting as the sole body for the disposal of land.
Planning conditions and Local Plans
The report endorses the Government's current proposals (contained within the DCLG's Technical Consultation on Planning) to introduce timescales to sign off planning conditions and a deemed discharge if these are not met. Sir Michael also recommends a statutory requirement for LPAs to have a Local Plan in place, another proposal mooted by the Government in the National Infrastructure Plan last year. Under the Lyons proposals, if LPAs had not submitted a Plan by December 2016, the Secretary of State would have the power to direct PINS to draw one up on their behalf.
On Local Plans themselves, the report recommends a two stage approach to streamline the process. First, LPAs would work on strategic elements of the Plan (including housing numbers) which would then go through an inspection. Once deemed sound, weight would be attached to those elements whilst the work on the other policies within the Plan was being undertaken. These elements in turn would then go through a second lighter examination.
Elsewhere, the report recommends:
- Creating definitive guidance on viability to prevent different interpretations
- Reversing the proposed changes for a minimum threshold of 10 units for affordable housing or Section 106 (S106) contributions
- The creation of a new arbitration service for S106 negotiations
- A statutory definition on affordability to replace the definition introduced in the NPPF
- A comprehensive review of the Community Infrastructure Levy
- Reversing the proposals to exempt small developments from zero carbon standards
Publishing the report, Mr Miliband said that there had been a "systemic failure to build the homes our country needs" and that Labour would "get Britain building again by insisting local authorities have a plan to meet the need for housing in their area and that the big developers play their part rather than hold land back."
Sir Michael said that his report set out "a comprehensive plan to tackle the key problems that underpin our failure to build enough homes" which would require "strong leadership from central government alongside the delegation of powers and responsibility so that every community provides the homes they need."
Reaction to the report has been broadly positive from the industry. Stewart Baseley, executive chairman of the Home Builders Federation, said: "We welcome the commitment by Labour to increase housing supply. Policies that would result in more land coming forward for development more quickly and further assist first time buyers would clearly provide a boost to housing supply. We look forward to working with the Labour Party to develop their policies as we move towards the general election."
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