Housing supply and development

Michael Hardware, Chelgate Local’s director of planning and property, chaired the first session of the Westminster Social Policy Forum online conference on housing supply and development on Friday, 26 May.

In his opening remarks, he highlighted the pent-up demand that exists in the housing market, with well over a million homes under supply running over several past decades. This is what has led to the high prices, unaffordability, reduced mobility and the inability for younger generations to get on the housing ladder. 

The current government has a 2019 manifesto commitment to provide 300,000 houses per year from the middle of this decade. Despite making progress towards that, a recent backbench rebellion has caused the Government to row back on that commitment and introduce reforms largely for political reasons: much of the housing need happens to be in the blue shires of southern England.

Michael quoted planning consultant Lichfields who predicted that the currently proposed reforms and NPPF modifications would result in the number of houses built falling from 233,000 to 156,000 per year.     

There then followed three keynote speakers.  

On the economy, Lucy Greenwood, director of residential research at Savills, showed that there was instability in the housing market but it is not as bad as first thought. There is currently significant regulatory and political uncertainty, including interest rates and wars, but there are positive signs for the future.

Andrew Taylor, group planning director at Countryside, was keen to see a change in the perception of developers: currently, they are widely viewed as “playing the system”. The narrative needs to change with developers spending more time selling the benefits of development, delivering those benefits and building trust with residents. 

The Infrastructure Levy was key to Carina Wentzel’s presentation. She is a senior associate at Norton Rose Fulbright. The DLUHC consultation on the Infrastructure Levy proposals concluded on 9th June. Although originally intended to replace S106, the Infrastructure Levy will complement it, providing clarity on the affordable housing and infrastructure elements. Of particular interest is the proposal for Infrastructure Delivery Strategies, which will be required for all large developments. These will need to be consulted upon, further improving the transparency of the system for residents.

The three keynote presentations were followed by a panel including Daniel Mohamed, founder and chief executive of Urban Intelligence, Alasdair Daw, Billericay Action Group, Keith Carnegie, chief executive of Vistry Group and Dr Charles Goode, teaching fellow in urban and regional planning at the University of Birmingham

Daniel Mohamed gave a rather despondent presentation about how overstretched and understaffed most planning consultancies currently are. This has impacted morale and consequently productivity. There is a need to invest in planning. Alasdair asked whether we need 300,000 new homes a year, questioning the accuracy of the forward population projections. He also asked for more communication between developers and local communities earlier in the planning process. 

Keith endorsed much of what had been said during the morning and agreed that there needs to be a much less adversarial approach to housebuilding.

The second-morning session was chaired by Nadia Whittome MP. She contradicted some of the speakers in the earlier session by asking whether 300,000 homes per year was enough considering the problem younger generations had getting on the property ladder. Many are still living with their parents, others are renting or sharing, and with no council housing available, there is a mental health pandemic.