A Long-term Plan for Housing?

Super straho w DTIG Tom Ulw unsplash

Tibbalds Associate Director Rob Moorhouse highlights some key points and provides some initial thoughts on this week's speech by Michael Gove on the Government's Long-term Plan for Housing.

Opinion piece

Starting with a quote from Winston Churchill, the Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, has delivered a speech on the Government's long-term plan for housing.

Amongst the references to Gaudi, Haussmann and Thatcher, plus some electioneering, it is worth reading as it shows the continued direction of travel, at least under this government... A few of things to note (in no particular order):

  • Continued focus on brownfield densification, "we are unequivocally, unapologetically and intensively concentrating our efforts in the hearts of our cities", with Homes England launching their Brownfield, Infrastructure and Land fund also.
  • New and expanded permitted development rights to maximise the potential for new homes (these will need to be clear if implemented to translate into housing delivery in volume and quality).
  • 18m threshold for new buildings requiring second staircases (the GLA for example, are currently working to 30m) but with "transitional arrangements".
  • In London.. a 'London Docklands' 2.0 covering Charlton, Thamesmead, Beckton and Silvertown whilst preserving the "precious low-rise and richly green character of its suburbs such as Barnet and Bromley".
  • 'Supercharging' Cambridge with a major new quarter under a 'Cambridge Delivery Group' led by Peter Freemen (Chair of Homes England).
  • Continued renewal in cities such as Leeds, Manchester, Sheffield, Wolverhampton and Barrow.
  • Greater power and autonomy for the Office for Place under Nick Boys-Smith
  • New planning 'supersquad' to "unblock major housing and infrastructure developments" (I'm assuming my phone will soon be ringing off its hook), first stop, Cambridge.
  • A £24m Planning Skills Delivery Fund over two years to support local planning authorities in clearing the backlog of planning applications.
  • Rolling out of new design codes and future consultation on a universal future homes standard.

The underlying principles such as regenerating and reviving our cities and ensuring homes are safe, decent and warm are, of course, supported. A continued focus on design quality and 'thoughtful' masterplanning likewise.

A number of the announcements are longer term measures and whilst welcome on the whole, the devil will be in the detail. This was the case with the expansion of permitted development rights previously, where this ‘simplified’ planning process did not necessarily reduce the administration of such applications, I speak from experience!

An oft repeated frustration of those in the development industry is the perceived or real lack of resourcing or skills within local planning authority planning (LPA) departments. Having moved from planning consultancy into an LPA, then to Tibbalds, I have seen the pressures from both sides. The Planning Skills Delivery Fund is a welcome announcement and will allow LPAs to apply for £100,000 for ‘backlog’ and/or ‘skills’ funding. Clearing backlogs is important but, in my view, the skills funding will have a greater and more positive impact if well used. More generally, alongside this measure, I believe there should a focus on using precious resources to tackle the key issues on individual development projects – so focussing resources and skills on areas of debate and creating genuinely well designed places. Planning performance and service level agreements could be more tailored in this regard.

I look forward to seeing how this announcement is progressed into action, particularly those measures that, on the face of it, will help to make more people friendly places.