Call to strip councillors from planning decisions

Tim Clark

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New report by Housing Forum calls for planning officers to replace councillors as final decison most smaller housing schemes

A pan-industry forum of housing professionals has called on the government to ‘de-politicise’ housing and take decision-making for planning applications of less than 250 homes away from elected local officials.

In a new report designed to ‘futureproof’ housing supply, The Housing Forum has issued a 10 point plan to deal with the crisis, stating that planning officers for local authorities should be in charge of all applications of less than 250 homes and not councillors.

The plan, which would also include appointing a cabinet-level housing minister who can directly commission new homes on public land, would dramatically change how planning is decided at all levels of government.

Called Future proofing housing supply, the report also says councils should also be encouraged to become leaders in housing delivery and the government should implement the call made in last year’s Farmer Review call for the modernisation of housebuilding skills and technology to address the skills shortage in construction.

The report stated: “Housing should be depoliticised. To achieve a more consensual, non-party-political approach to housing developments at local level, directly elected members should set strategic planning policy but decisions on individual planning applications below 250 homes should be made solely by the professional planning teams.

“Historically, the outcomes of planning applications are often unpredictable and inconsistent. Our solution seeks to remove the time delays and additional costs caused when planning applications are recommended for approval, refused at committee but then awarded planning permission through appeal. This uncertainty has been highlighted as a key reason why small, medium and large developers limit their investment in the sector.”

Stephen Teagle, chief executive, partnerships and regeneration at Galliford Try and deputy chairman of The Housing Forum, said: “The government’s focus on supply through a broad range of measures is welcome and will contribute to lifting the supply of new homes we need.

“This report takes that ambition a stage further – calling for renewed leadership at a local level, greater investment and a strengthened platform for collaboration to future-proof delivery over the next decade.

“We have to recognise as an industry that the government’s renewed focus on housing supply presents an opportunity for the sector to push for the kind of change that can make a real difference.”

The report was compiled by the Housing Forum’s working group members which include HTA partner Mike De’Ath, Levitt Bernstein architect Zohra Chiheb, PRP director Philip Pamment with contributors including Arcadis partner Richard Jones.

 

Housing Forum’s recommendations for the housing industry

1. Housing should be depoliticised. Take party politics out of housing strategy and delivery by creating cross-party housing groups and removing elected members from decision making on some planning applications.

2. Government to appoint a Housing Minister to the Cabinet and directly commission new homes on public sector land.

3. All local authorities must become more pro-active leaders of housing supply. The housing sector needs all local members and council officers to capitalise on this position and drive housing supply.

4. Create a single voice for the housing industry. A single message delivered by a new housing industry body would enable clear, powerful and effective communication with Government.

5. Government and industry to implement the Farmer Review’s call for modernisation of housebuilding skills and technology to address the looming skills crisis.

6. Local authorities should be encouraged to sell land by judging potential buyers against ‘best value’ factors including the speed of delivery of new homes.

7. Central and local government to revise the planning system so it favours increased supply including PRS / Build for rent and encourages the allocation of sites of different sizes so as to attract interest from a range of builders.

8. Government to agree a long-term, large-scale capital investment plan for housing for the next 10 years.

9. Give local authorities the financial mechanisms to directly commission new housing and greater freedom for risk sharing with the private sector.

10. Create a centre of excellence for procurement expertise for use across the sector.

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