A recently released report has recommended that the level of new homes being built in the UK needs to be significantly increased over the coming years in order to tackle the ‘housing crisis’. The report, commissioned on behalf of the National Housing Federation (NHF), found that England has a shortfall of 4 million homes, meaning that 340,000 new homes need to be built every year until 2031 to overcome the housing shortage.
There are many factors that combine to pave the way for building new residential property, including the availability of suitable land and the planning process.
Here, we look at the subject of planning in Lancashire and the impact this is having on residential property development.
The planning system can be unwieldy and time-consuming, but it is improving as Local Plans mature and Local Authorities acknowledge the need for reasonable levels of development.
Whilst there remain exceptions, many Local Authorities, including those in Lancashire, have their required five year supplies and can demonstrate a track record of delivery, which is good for the residential market. What is essential, however, is that this continues and Councils continue to plan positively for growth in the short, medium and long terms.
The need for development to be in sustainable locations ensures that sites should be in connected areas with good access to facilities.
The type of housing being delivered is generally market driven – developers will build what they can sell, which is in essence is what there is demand for. As such, development delivers the housing that is sought by the market. The planning process should monitor delivery of housing types and identify needs within the market, but if this is too prescriptive it would unduly constrain delivery, so there must be a balance.
The topic of using land for development can be emotive, particularly when the land is categorised as ‘Green Belt’. The planning process seeks to use land effectively and allocate it in line with what it is most suitable for. A developer cannot build on land that is designated as Green Belt (except in some very limited circumstances).
Instead, Local Plans are periodically reviewed and, as part of that, the Green Belt boundaries may be reconsidered. A Green Belt Review will assess whether land is performing a useful function as Green Belt (for which there are specified criteria to meet). If it is, then it remains heavily protected. However, if it isn’t actually useful as Green Belt, then it can be considered for development.
The Government are currently consulting on changes to national planning policy and guidance. Several of these changes strike at the heart of development viability and some are tantamount to a development land tax.
Development land is already heavily burdened and whilst it is right that developments should mitigate their impacts on local infrastructure, they shouldn’t be expected to meet shortfalls in infrastructure and local services created by political and macroeconomic considerations.
The proposed changes may work in high value areas in the South East, but would have a fundamental effect on how, and if, residential development is delivered in Lancashire.
The Government should look at how the system current works across market areas, rather than trying to implement policies that would undermine growth in areas that need continued investment.
We have seen a real focus on residential development in planning, particularly in the identification of suitable land. Although this is good for the residential market, it has, to some extent, seen commercial and employment land taking a back seat.
High quality, well-located sites are much more limited. Take up rates of existing stock continues to be good, so there is pressure for sites which recent Local Plans haven’t adequately addressed in several Authority areas.
Lea Hough has a department that specialises in planning and development projects. Our client base in this area includes private and corporate landowners, developers, institutions and Local Authorities, covering small exclusive sites through to large-scale residential and commercial development on greenfield and brownfield land. For more information on any of our planning and development services, please contact us.