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The biggest housebuilding programme in a generation? Matthew Warburton - 07/09/2012

red_tape_300David 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.

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