Levelling Up White Paper: Boost for development and housebuilding across the country

Alex Wray

Account Manager

Professionals in the property and development sector are eagerly awaiting the Planning Bill, which is expected at some point this year. However, the Levelling Up White Paper has ‘hinted’ at what the Planning Bill might contain, with Minsters confirming that planning will now be looked at by the Government through the lens of their levelling up agenda.

It has been revealed that Sheffield and Wolverhampton have been chosen as the first of 20 cities to benefit from a new radical programme of regeneration, which includes being prioritised for a new ‘brownfield fund’. The Levelling Up White Paper also contains changes to the rental sector – including a national register for landlords and doing away with no-fault evictions.

Another key aspect of the Levelling Up White Paper is that the Government is scrapping the controversial ‘80/20’ rule, which sees Homes England direct the majority of its funding to the least affordable areas in the country – resulting in London and the Southeast receiving a large percentage of this. Unsurprisingly, housing bodies from areas outside of London and the Southeast are celebrating this news, whereas those that serve London are warning of the dangers of ignoring social inequality within the Capital and its surrounding areas.

So, what does this mean for developers? Ultimately a boost to regeneration and housebuilding across the country should be very good news to developers and housebuilders alike. Especially with the recent warning to the Government, from the House of Lords, that pushing through the controversial planning reforms is the only way to reach their housing targets of 300,000 homes per year. However, the attitude towards developers is much colder from the backbenches.

Warning shots rang out through the House of Commons, as backbench MPs set their sights firmly on developers. As business began for the new year, MPs queued up to share their constituents’ homeowner horror stories. The debate on the role of developers, housebuilders, and management companies in the construction of new homes was filled with tales of planning system failure. Pressure is building on all sides for the Government to act, and new legislation is already in the pipeline.

The debate was set out passionately by David Johnston MP who highlighted five issues in the way that new homes are built: their often poor-quality, impact on the environment, and affordability; plus, the widespread use of management companies, and the broken planning system in which they are granted permission. It was striking how universal these concerns were, with MPs from across the political spectrum raising the same points. It should also be noted, they all felt obliged to stress they understood the need for more housing, and that their criticism was not rooted in NIMBYism.

Johnston rebuked housebuilders for driving down the amount of affordable homes included in developments, arguing they too frequently claim these homes are unviable. Justin Madders MP interjected to say that developers often base this assessment on maintaining a profit of 20% across each property, a threshold he described as “unsustainable”. However, the harshest assessment was from Mark Francois MP, Chair of the European Research Group, who claimed housebuilders “ruthlessly exploit [ordinary families’] agony to maintain their already generous profit margins”.

The most remarkable moment of the debate came when Francois, described by his rivals as one of “the most unreasonable of free market Brexiteers”, joined with Labour to call for greater state intervention and regulatory oversight in the housebuilding sector. He decried the industry as “an example of near market failure”, and he accused major developers of operating a monopoly to keep housing supply low and prices high. Francois finished with a call for a full enquiry into the alleged practice.

Theresa Villiers MP reminded ministers of the widely reported concerns that reforms set out in the Planning for the Future White Paper undermine local democracy, in particular she criticised the use of mandatory housing targets set by central government.

To close the debate, Johnston shared a damning indictment from a housing association CEO, “[developers] are building something to walk away from, and we’re buying something… for people to live in for 50 to 100 years”.

Although the opportunities for housebuilders and developers are increasing across the country, especially in those areas identified for huge regeneration projects, it would appear that political attitudes towards the property industry as a whole are cautious. It was apparent from the debate that housebuilders are facing the most criticism, highlighting a possible lack of trust.  Should you wish to discuss the politics of planning and how we can help you navigate the challenges of local democracy, get in touch on Info@plmr.co.uk

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