‘Plan for more houses, or we’ll do it for you,’ says Mr Cameron
In a speech delivered on 12th October 2015, David Cameron urged all relevant local authorities to adopt updated local plans designating areas for new housing, if they had not already done so. Councils were given a deadline of 2017 to produce updated plans, or the government would intervene and produce a local plan themselves. The government has a target for 1 million new homes to be constructed by 2020.
The Prime Minister also confirmed that developers would no longer require planning permission for converting unused offices into residential accommodation. This change was actually introduced back in 2013 as a temporary measure, but is now being made permanent.
Mr Cameron also announced that brownfield sites designated as suitable for development by local authorities would, in principle, have automatic planning permission for housing.
Housing land in short supply
According to the Guardian newspaper about 1 in 5 local authorities still do not have an up to date local plan. Even when a plan has been published, it has not necessarily been officially adopted by the relevant local authority. According to the government planning guidance website, a plan should be produced at least every five years.
There has been a longstanding disagreement between central government, which is keen to see many more houses built, and some local authorities, particularly in rural areas, who are mindful of strong local opposition to extensive new developments.
According to the Office of National Statistics, average house prices have increased from £109,000 in the year 2000 to £265,000 in 2014. Rental property has also become significantly more expensive in many parts of the country. Successive governments have tried to remedy this situation by encouraging new builds. However, they have been reluctant to return to the mass building of council houses seen in the 1950s and 1960s. Private development has not kept pace with demand, one reason being the reluctance of local communities to accept extensive new developments.
Building on Greenfield land
Although there is undoubtedly a housing shortage, many inhabitants of small towns and villages remain steadfastly opposed to large-scale building. They fear their communities losing their distinct identity in a mass of suburban sprawl. Where large scale developments have taken place, the infrastructure improvements have often not kept pace, resulting in rush hour gridlock on narrow, winding rural roads, overcrowded schools, and long waiting times in local doctors’ surgeries. Countryside campaigners are also concerned about the damage to wildlife and the loss of valuable farmland caused by developments on greenfield sites.
Brownfield land for housing development
In some districts there still remain extensive brownfield sites which could be used for housing. Almost everybody wants such sites to be developed. However, the devil is in the detail. Many sites required extensive surveys and remedial reclamation work before they are suitable for use. Legacy contamination often requires detailed professional evaluation.
It is important that land remediation should be carried out in a timely and cost-effective manner. This requires the professional implementation of pragmatic technical solutions, which will deliver land suitable for development within the agreed timetable and budget.
Strategy to promote brownfield redevelopment
The UK clearly needs more houses, and the government now seems determined to build more. It remains to be seen whether in practice they will be any more successful than their predecessors. Building on greenfield sites will probably increase, but the opposition of local communities should not be underestimated. Remediation of contaminated land and brownfield sites can help towards alleviating the housing shortage.
Planning Practice Guidance (Government website), Local Plans. http://planningguidance.planningportal.gov.uk/blog/guidance/local-plans/preparing-a-local-plan/
Wintour, P., ‘Councils face pressure to publish and adopt updated housing plans’, The Guardian, 12th October 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/oct/12/councils-face-pressure-to-publish-and-adopt-updated-housing-plans
Office of National Statistics, housing. http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/taxonomy/index.html?nscl=Housing+Market