Dear Secretary Of State For Housing

A plea for a coherent housing policy to improve housing delivery by Christopher Young QC, Queen's Counsel at No5 Barristers' Chambers.

Robert Jenrick, the new Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government will today complete his first week in office. His initial pronouncements about increasing housing delivery appear very encouraging.

Added to which, his new boss Boris Johnson, seems keen to do things differently. And well he might, as the Conservative Party’s track record on housing delivery, first as the main party in a coalition, and then on its own, has been very poor.

(i) Help to Buy: Top of the list is this scheme, which Government statistics suggest 420,000 completions have been achieved under this scheme since from inception in April 2013 to 2018. This is presently a driving force in the house building industry. And whilst it plainly does benefit house builders, the main beneficiaries have been the 365,400 first time buyers who have been helped onto the property ladder through this scheme. It has helped to save first-time buyers without access to family money from near- extinction.

 (ii) The Presumption in Favour of Sustainable Development: introduced in 2012 by Eric Pickles, as Secretary of State in 2012, this is the centrepiece of the National Planning Policy Framework. It introduced the excellent and innovative idea of sustainable development being a flexible concept, which varies according to the circumstances in which each planning application is determined. Most especially, it suggests that planning permission for new housing should ordinarily be granted if a local council does not have an up-to-date development plan, or is unable to demonstrate a five year supply of housing land. This instruction was explored in detail by the Supreme Court in Suffolk Coastal v Hopkins Homes: Richborough Estates v Cheshire East [2017] UKSC 2017: the Supreme Court Justices observing that the message on improving housing delivery was “unmistakeable”

(iii) “Significantly Boost the Supply of Homes”: this little phrase also appeared in the NPPF in 2012 and is priceless as a clear message of intent. More recently the Government has said it wants to reach a target of 300,000 new homes a year. We are still a long way from that, but housing completions have recently risen to over 200,000, a level not previously seen since 2007-8.

(iv) Homes England: created under Sajid Javid, the Secretary of State in 2018, as the successor to the Homes and Communities Agency, Homes England has quickly grown to nearly 1,000 employees in a very short space of time. It has a clear instruction to assist in bringing forward sites to delivery new homes as quickly as possible. It also has some money to spend on infrastructure.

(v) Rosewell Planning Inquiries: last year the Government asked Bridget Rosewell to look into the way in which planning inquiries could be conducted more quickly, with most taking up to a year to be heard. Since housing makes up over 80% of planning appeals, this was having a negative effect on the speed of the delivery of new homes. Planning appeals delivered permission for 30,000 new homes last year, of which 20,000 were secured through just 300 public inquiries. The Planning Inspectorate have wasted no time in introduced the new Rosewell style of inquiry with immediate effect, and now planning inquiries are being heard within just 16 weeks. 

Read the full letter here

Credit: Christopher Young QC Queen's Counsel at No5 Barristers' Chambers – August 2019