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News: New proposals to boost house-building

Wed, 19 Sep 07

Housing and Planning Minister Yvette Cooper has unveiled a major £500m package of proposals to accelerate the building of the homes families and first-time buyers desperately need...

Housing and Planning Minister Yvette Cooper has unveiled a major £500m package of proposals to accelerate the building of the homes families and first-time buyers desperately need - ensuring both that new homes are greener and the focus is on brownfield land.

A major set of incentives, provided through the new Housing and Planning Delivery Grant (HPDG), will reward councils which speed up housing supply delivery and maximise the supply of building land in their areas.  Local authorities which show they are leading the way in both of these, and helping to meet the Government's ambition of 240,000 new homes per year, will receive a share of the new funding incentive.

Local authorities need to “raise their game”

The body which will drive forward the Government's plans for housing growth will be called the Homes and Communities Agency. This reflects its role in delivering new homes and in regenerating existing and creating new communities. The agency, as announced by the Prime Minister in his legislative programme statement on 11 July, will be at the heart of Government's plans for delivering these targets and ensuring the creation of thriving communities through regeneration and renewal.

Councils will be required to identify at least 5 years' worth of sites ready for housing and a further 10 years' worth for future development.  A lack of suitable development land is often cited as the reason for blockage in the delivery of new homes.  Yvette Cooper has made clear that, while many councils are ahead of the rest in delivering more good quality homes quickly, some are failing to be proactive enough in identifying the homes their communities need.

Yvette Cooper commented: "Families across the country need more affordable homes. We want to give more support to communities and councils who are doing their bit to deliver the extra homes we need.  This money is about extra support for the councils which are already doing their bit. Some of them are doing a lot of work to support additional housing, but we know that others really need to do more. I want this new cash injection to push local authorities to raise their game."

The Minister will propose that HPDG be awarded to those councils which:

  • Deliver against their housing plans to meet local needs and meet agreed 'development timetables' to speed up new housing. The timetables will commit councils to set out clear and ambitious plans on the number and type of homes needed in a local area, including family homes
  • Identify banks of deliverable land suitable for new homes

Green ambitions

The Minister also announced progress in delivering more green homes and more homes on brownfield sites.  She revealed that 200 more disused public sector sites across the country have been identified as potential sites for housing and could contribute thousands of new homes. This brings the total of brownfield sites being assessed for development suitability to more than 750.

She also revealed an enthusiastic response to the Government's challenge to the house building industry for all new homes to be zero carbon by 2016. Over 150 organisations, including house builders, green groups and local councils, have now put their names to the 2016 Commitment to work together to build 240,000 new zero carbon homes a year within a decade. 152 signatories, including the Home Builders Federation, Local Government Association, Green Building Council and WWF as well as individual developers and councils have now 'taken the green building pledge' and signed up to the Commitment.

Private companies “sitting on vast tracts of undeveloped land”

These proposals have met with some criticism, however.  Sir Simon Milton, chairman of the Local Government Association, commented: “It is disappointing that this announcement seems to be rewarding councils for playing a crude numbers game and ignores the needs of the majority of councils with housing challenges.  A key issue is where the money goes as there will be many areas that this money does not cover which will have equally as pressing housing needs for local families. What is also now necessary is for funding for the roads, schools and hospitals needed to turn desolate dormitories into places where people can live and work.”

Milton continued: "Financial incentives for councils to identify potential building sites will help free up land, but it is important that densely populated areas are not penalised just because they have less land for development. The Government also needs to consider the large amounts of land that developers are sitting on that has already been given planning permission.

“Although we understand the Minister's impatience, we find it disappointing that this announcement does not recognise that many private companies are sitting on vast tracts of undeveloped land that they have yet to develop. If businesses could be encouraged to start building, rather than sitting on brownfield land, then many more affordable homes could be built.”

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