Jones Lang LaSalle planning director Peter Lever discusses the proposals by government to further relax planning laws to encourage development. Lever believes local planning authorities have received a "wake-up call" from the government and will be under increased pressure to deliver more housing. Is Eric Pickles friend or foe?
Secretary of State for Communities and Local government, Eric Pickles, has issued a mininsterial statement entitled Housing and Growth. The statement looks at a number of ways which the housebuilding sector could be kickstarted.
It is clear that planning is seen as a continued obstacle to growth. Even a more flexible approach to development in the green belt - previously a sacred cow - is now contemplated.
In simple terms, many local authorities are red faced because they have taken too long to produce their development plans and are now finding that the government is taking matters into its own hands to accelerate the delivery of new homes. Eric Pickles is far from the friend local authorities, particularly in the Conservative heartlands, thought he was going to be when he initiated the Localism agenda shortly after the coalition government took power in 2010, promoting more local involvement in development decisions.
Developers are now more likely to win planning appeals, if local authorities have not got a proper strategy in place and have a record of poor-quality or slow decision making. This has led to the government deciding where schemes are placed and not the local authorities. Added to this the appointment of Nicholas Boles as planning minister, who is very pro-development and doesn't think planning works, and we will be seeing a much more emolient approach to development and, crucially, the consideration of green belt land.
Locally, Birmingham council is due to publish the preferred option to its development plan this autumn, started under the previous leadership and it is believed it offers good news for developers. The plan is thought to be more pro-growth, pushing for greater housing and recognising the need to look outside the main conurbation to deliver targets and good quality new homes.
This will mean green belt land to the North-East of the city around Sutton Coldfield and to the South-West towards Redditch and Bromsgrove will have to be considered. Development in the city centre simply can't deliver the number and quality of new homes required and developers are looking to the lusher greenfield sites to realise new profits for their business, creating larger family homes after having their fingers so badly burnt in the city-living, brownfield apartment era.
For many residents in target greenfield sites these proposals are going to ring alarm bells. In the nineties and noughties there was a huge backlash to back garden grabbing as people pushed to conserve their surburban spaces, but if you don't allow that to happen clearly something has got to give.
A report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation(JRF) says that 750,000 homes are required by 2015 and even if every government policy and scheme succeeds, we will still have a shortfall of 310,000 by the end of that period. A more permissive planning policy is the only real way forward. And whilst it is good news for the developers, it will also provide a much needed boost to the economy.
This doesn't mean a free-for-all for developers, though, as long as local authorities have their houses in order, they can work together with developers to create sustainable new communites that enhance and provide places where people want to live.