Cameron described the housing
stimulus package announced yesterday as "a comprehensive plan
to unleash one of the biggest housebuilding programmes this country
has seen in a generation". We can only hope he is right.
But it is a plan that depends on a leap of faith - the belief that
it is planning delays and red tape, together with unrealistic
section 106 requirements, that are the most important obstacles to
housebuilding, rather than lack of effective demand.
Yet there are sites for an estimated 400,000
homes where permission has been granted but development has yet
to materialise. Clearly, planning delays and restrictions are not
the only problem.
There are measures in the package to boost demand. An extra £280
million to extend First Buy and £300 million for affordable homes
should ensure an additional 30,000 homes. But the Government
clearly hopes for many more from its plans for a £10 billion loan
guarantee fund and its assault on planning restrictions.
The proposals on planning are mostly dependent on legislation
which will not be in place until next year. It will provide for
developers to refer stalled schemes to the Planning Inspectorate
where councils refuse to renegotiate section 106 agreements, and
for the Inspectorate to take over the planning powers of councils
which persistently show a poor track record.
This latter is reminiscent of some of the previous government's
local government legislation - the threat to remove functions from
councils that perform badly. And like that legislation its
intention may be primarily to intimidate councils into performing
better or more in line with national government policy. Taking on
local planning functions wholesale would probably be the Planning
Inspectorate's worst nightmare.
Council housing and councils' housing - as opposed to planning -
functions are nowhere mentioned in the package. ARCH will make it a
priority to remind the government that, if its ambition is to see
the biggest housebuilding programme in a generation, councils have
s major contribution to make.