Another week, another seminal moment for social housing in the UK. At least that is what it feels like at present.
A new dawn for housing
Hot on the heels of the passing of the Welfare Reform and Localism Acts, we now have the latest regulatory dawns in England and Scotland, the unveiling of the final English planning framework and the launch of self-financing for councils in England.
The government hopes the launch of the national planning policy framework will be a bang that resonates through the years as it marks one of its clearest attempts to turn its localist rhetoric into reality. But will it deliver on the fundamental pledge made by housing minister Grant Shapps when he took office nearly two years ago: to build more homes? As the level of housing completions at that time was 118,000 a year, this might not be hard. However, whether this figure will rise to anywhere near the 230,000 to 240,000 new household formations in England each year is something else entirely.
The success or failure of the NPPF rests on the ability of the Planning Inspectorate to ensure local authorities ‘objectively’ assess housing need. To do this, however, planning inspectors must themselves have a sense of demand for housing in any given locality and an ability to robustly assess the evidence provided by councils to support their planned housing numbers. While not impossible, this does place huge pressure on them to ensure councils concerned about the nimby vote don’t try to pull the wool over their eyes.
There is an obvious role here for housing associations, especially those with large development programmes to deliver by April 2015, to scrutinise local authority plans. Planning inspectors would also benefit from the guidance in the strategic housing market assessment being revisited and updated by the Communities and Local Government department.
There is some help more closely at hand for hard-pressed planners. A spectrum of housing and planning bodies, including the Town and Country Planning Association and the Planning Officers’ Society, is working to produce guidance on how to assess local housing demand. As the CLG has yet to show its hand in this area, this work cannot come soon enough.