DLUHC Select Committee – second oral hearing

On Monday 24 April, the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee held its second oral hearing on reforms to the national planning policy. The witnesses this time around were Housing Minister Rachel Maclean and Director General of the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, responsible for regeneration Emran Mian.

The discussion was focused on dealing with government policy that has been released over the past several months; this has caused great confusion on all sides of the discussion. Several local authorities have delayed their Local Plans because of Michael Gove’s December Statement. This, consequently, has traffic jammed the whole process in certain areas.

Regrettably, whilst some of the discussion was informative, Maclean deflected from answering the most concrete questions by insisting that the specifics will only be outlined once the consultations have taken place and a final document is published.


Advisory v Mandatory Housing 

One of the biggest questions being asked was how the government planned to keep its target of building 300,000 homes per year by the mid-2020s while – amongst other issues – the move to advisory housing targets for local areas, rather than mandatory targets.

Natalie Elphicke MP quizzed the Minister over the monitoring of housing development across the UK, which is something that is not currently in place, to try and coordinate the gap between the target set at the national level to meet the national housing needs and the cumulative sum of all local authority targets set.

Mian was quick to state that the 300,000 target remains a guiding principle. He also highlighted that after speaking with local planning authorities many had a good reason not to fulfil their portion of the 300,000 houses, such as housing character and green belt space. Other planning authorities too, are pushing above their 100% portion – such as Birmingham – which will help balance out the numbers more. So, whilst monitoring will be carried out, a blanket mandatory target to fill the gap will not be expected from the local planning authorities.

Maclean also pointed out that, concerning applications, the Government will continue to have powers, such as the Secretary of States intervention, if it is deemed necessary.


Developer Accountability 

Another discussion took place focusing on the accountability of rogue developers. With proposed changes expected in the NPPF, one of the consultations taking place will be looking at “past irresponsible behaviour” and how tracking this can help local authorities hold irresponsible behaviour accountable.

Maclean acknowledged that not all developers are irresponsible, but that for those who are, the local authority, cannot hold them to account with the current legal framework. Maclean stated that when they are looking at planning permissions that are granting in the future if they have a developer who has a bad track record of doing that on multiple occasions, they can look to refuse to grant the planning permission. 

Asked how it would fit in with the long-established principle that permission is granted with the land and not the developer, Maclean gave a vague indication that there will be a material consideration – this has not yet been fully developed, however. On top of this, more enforcement powers will be given to local authorities, but these too were not listed.

A new power that is being introduced into the levelling-up Bill – which is currently at the committee stage in the House of Lords – is a power to tackle building out reasonably slowly, was also dissected with Kate Hollern stating that this could leave local authorities open to multiple legal challenges from developers, which would be incredibly costly for the authority.

Emran responded that it was ultimately down to the local planning authority to make the decision. Emran believes that these powers would only be used “when there was very clear evidence, a consistent pattern perhaps for a particular developer having failed to respect planning permissions in the past”.