House of Commons Library

Planning for Housing

Published Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Government has an ambition to speed up the planning system with an aim of delivering more housing. In February 2017 it published a Housing white paper which seeks views on a number of reforms. This note sets out how local authorities are directed to plan for housing, concern about unplanned developments, as well as the Government's proposals for reform.

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Abolition of centrally set housing targets

Under the last Labour Government, housing requirements were calculated at a national level and targets were set for each regional planning authority. The regional planning authority would then divide that target between each local planning authority (LPA). The former Coalition Government abolished nationally set housing targets and regional planning bodies under provisions introduced by the Localism Act 2011.

Calculating housing requirements at local authority level

Despite the abolition of national targets, LPAs are encouraged to calculate their own housing figures and set aside enough land to satisfy housing demand. The Government has made clear that there is currently no one methodological approach or use of a particular dataset(s) that will provide a definitive assessment of development need. The estimate, however, needs to be based upon robust evidence in order to withstand challenge. The Government’s National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) gives some broad guidance to local authorities about calculating housing need and a suitable supply of housing land, which is now supported by the web-based Planning Practice Guidance.

Housing statistics

It is generally accepted that not enough new homes are being built to meet growing need. July 2016 household projections indicated that on average 210,000 additional households will be formed each year up to 2039. This exceeds the number of homes built recently – 140,660 new build dwellings were completed in the year to December 2016.

Concern about unplanned development

Concern has been highlighted by the House of Commons Communities and Local Government Committee and others about whether policies in the NPPF have led to a rise in unplanned development, where developers are able to gain planning permission at appeal for sites that the local authority did not intend for development. There is also a mixed reaction from planning professionals as to whether the provisions in the NPPF are working successfully to boost housing supply.

Forthcoming changes to housing planning policy

To boost housing supply a number of policies were set out in the Conservative Party 2015 Manifesto and which are now part of the Housing and Planning Act 2016. Further reforms are contained in the Neighbourhood Planning Bill 2016-17 with aim to speed up the delivery of new homes.

A Housing white paper, Fixing our broken housing market was published in February 2017. The Government is consulting on the proposals and responses can be submitted until 2 May 2017. Many of the planning related proposals in the white paper would be done by making changes to the NPPF. Some of its headline proposals include:

  • giving local authorities the opportunity to have their housing land supply agreed on an annual basis and fixed for a one year period;
  • further consultation on introducing a standardised approach for local authorities in assessing housing requirements;
  • changing the NPPF to introduce a housing delivery test which will highlight whether the number of homes being built is on target;

Non planning related policies to incentivise house building are outside the scope of this note, but are set out in Library briefing paper Stimulating housing supply - Government initiatives. Related Library briefing papers are also available on Neighbourhood Planning and Green Belt.

Devolved nations

This paper applies to England only. For an overview of the planning system in the other UK countries see the joint Library briefing paper Comparison of the planning systems in the four UK countries: 2016 update.

Commons Briefing papers SN03741

Author: Louise Smith

Topics: Housing, Housing supply, Planning

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