Planning reform concerns

Councils know what is right for their local area when it comes to delivering high-quality homes

A locally led planning system is vital to ensure that councils and the communities they represent have a say over the way places develop.

Keeping planning local supports the delivery of homes that are built to a high standard with the necessary infrastructure to create sustainable, resilient places and ensures that affordable housing is provided. 

Our Keep Planning Local campaign (see www.local.gov.uk/keep-planning-local) stresses how important it is that communities should be at the heart our planning system.

However, the LGA is concerned that proposed planning reforms would result in fewer affordable homes being built and allow developers to ‘game’ the system.

Among other things, the Government’s ‘Changes to the current planning system’ consultation proposes lifting the requirement for developers to build affordable housing on small sites. 

Analysis commissioned by the LGA has shown that if this policy had been in place for the past five years, almost 30,000 affordable homes would have been lost – at a time when more than a million households are on council waiting lists and almost 93,000 are living in temporary accommodation.

Moreover, the proposed 40 or 50-home threshold could encourage developers to put forward proposals for 39 or 49 or fewer homes, respectively, on sites which are able to take more, to avoid affordable housing requirements.

We desperately need to be building more affordable housing, not less. We need to build homes that are affordable to local people and help to reduce homelessness, rather than contributing additional funds to developers’ and landowners’ profits. 

So, it is vital that any thresholds for affordable housing should be determined by local planning authorities based on assessment of local need. As we recover from COVID-19, this is more important than ever.

Other proposals in the ‘Changes to the current planning system’ consultation include delivery of a First Homes scheme providing newly built homes at a 30 per cent discount for first-time buyers; extending the current ‘permission in principle’ to major developments; and changes to the standard method for assessing local housing need.

The LGA supports the principle of First Homes but not a mandatory requirement for 25 per cent of affordable housing contributions to be First Homes. This would lead to the displacement of other discounted-market products, including those for affordable and social rent.

And while we have previously welcomed the principle of a standardised, simplified methodology for calculating local housing need, we have stressed that any model should be able to reflect the complexities of different housing markets. 

The proposed further changes to the methodology would see fewer homes built in the north and disproportionately impact on rural areas. A nationally set formula does not – and cannot – accurately reflect local needs, so should be optional for local authorities to use.

The LGA set out last month how the Government can use the forthcoming Spending Review to empower councils to build significantly more council housing and boost the supply of low-cost homes to rent and buy across the country (see www.local.gov.uk/re-thinking-public-finances).

We want to work with ministers on any changes to the planning system, to ensure it delivers high-quality sustainable homes and places for communities by giving councils the power to determine what is right for their local area.

See www.local.gov.uk/parliament/briefings-and-responses for the LGA’s full response to ‘Changes to the current planning system’, available at www.gov.uk/government/consultations/changes-to-the-current-planning-system. Further consultations, on the ‘Planning for the future’ White Paper, were closing as first went to press (see www.gov.uk/government/consultations/planning-for-the-future)

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