House of Commons Library

Planning for Housing

Published Wednesday, June 14, 2017

A number of reforms to the system of planning for housing were put forward in the previous Conservative Government's Housing White Paper, which the new Government will need to respond to and decide how to take forward. This briefing paper sets out how local authorities are directed to plan for housing, concern about unplanned developments, and the proposals for reform in this area.

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Abolition of centrally set housing targets

Under the former 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 2010-15 Coalition Government abolished nationally set housing targets and regional planning bodies under provisions introduced by the Localism Act 2011.

Calculating housing supply 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 previous Conservative Government made clear that there was no one methodological approach or use of a particular dataset(s) to provide a definitive assessment of development need. The estimate, however, should to be based upon robust evidence in order to withstand challenge. The 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.

Legislative change to planning for housing

With the aim of boosting housing supply the previous Conservative Government introduced two pieces of planning legislation to make the system quicker and simpler to use: the Housing and Planning Act 2016 and the Neighbourhood Planning Act 2017.

Housing white paper

A Housing white paper, Fixing our broken housing market was published in February 2017. The previous Government consulted on the proposals but did not publish a response before the 2017 general election. Many of the planning related proposals in the white paper would be achieved by making changes to the NPPF. Some of its headline proposals included:

  • 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;

Conservative Party 2017 manifesto

The Conservative Party manifesto for the 2017 general election stated that it would meet the previous 2015 commitment to deliver a million homes by 2020 and that it would deliver half a million more by the end of 2022. It pledged to deliver the reforms in the Housing White Paper. The new Government had not yet confirmed this position following the election and the appointment of a new Housing and Planning Minister.

Related briefing papers

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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