Reaction: May turns up the heat on housebuilding

6 March 2018 | By James Kenny

Image: Robert Davies/

In a speech yesterday on housing and reforms to planning rules, prime minister Theresa May vowed to make it harder for property companies to sit on land and wait for its value to rise.

She also told housing developers to “step up and do their bit” to ensure more homes are built as she outlined changes to the National Planning Policy Framework.

May said property companies now risk losing bids for planning permission if they have a record of failing to build houses on land they already own.

“I’d rather see an ugly, disused power station demolished and replaced with attractive housing than a wood or open field concreted over – even if the former is in the green belt and the latter is not.”

Theresa May

She also warned local councils they will lose their planning powers if they miss housebuilding targets.

The prime minister stressed she “cannot bring about the kind of society I want to see, unless we tackle one of the biggest barriers to social mobility we face today [the lack of affordable housing]”.

And she also signalled a new approach to planning permission on green belt land.

She said: “I’d rather see an ugly, disused power station demolished and replaced with attractive housing than a wood or open field concreted over – even if the former is in the green belt and the latter is not.”

Among the comments from the industry following May’s speech, were:

Mark Challis, planning and infrastructure partner from law firm Bircham Dyson Bell

“Although the government says that radical change is needed to achieve delivery targets, these changes, if not modest, are not radical. But despite the pressing need for more housing, housing developments are often unpopular and so there is only so far any government would be prepared to go.

“There is more to come, with the government looking further into the possibility of introducing permitted development rights for upward extensions for new homes and generally how best to make more intensive use of existing sites, particularly in urban areas.”

Ian Anderson, partner in Cushman & Wakefield’s planning and development team.

“Today’s draft National Planning Policy Framework sets out how the government plans to step in and ‘turn up the heat’ on both local authorities and developers to account for the number of homes being delivered.

“The Housing Delivery Test is the most significant change – it will put councils under pressure to deliver more homes or face the prospect of developers getting the right to ‘build anytime anywhere’.

“But local councils will also be under added pressure too as the government takes local house prices into account for the first time when setting local housebuilding targets. This will put very significant pressure on fast-growing but expensive cities like Oxford and Cambridge.

“Although an ambitious and streamlined approach is to be welcomed, there is certainly a great deal of ‘stick’ and perhaps not enough ‘carrot’ for councils to get more planning permissions delivered. The big opportunity for planning reform is to increase housing density, particularly around train stations, and to make it as easy as possible for brownfield sites in town and city centres to be converted to residential.”   

Stephen Webb, planning partner at Clyde & Co

“Our biggest problem is that many communities simply do not want to accept change. The Nimby culture is alive and kicking in many local councils and in Westminster itself. There is a desperate need to break through the anti-development sentiment and accept that the country’s failure to build houses is having a huge cost to society and to the economy. 

“The changes to the NPPF come after far too much talking and not enough action. The proposed new standard methodology for assessing local housing need will provide a clearer indication of housing shortages in an area.

“It is in those areas that councils should be forced to grant the necessary planning permissions and developers required to build out within a reasonable agreed period.”

Tom Barton, associate in planning at Trowers & Hamlins

“The draft NPPF released by the government today continues with a number of themes set out in last year’s Housing White Paper. As expected Westminster is turning up the pressure on local authorities to deliver units within their area and their new rules as to how the number of new units needed should be determined.

“Action plans will be required by those authorities failing to meet their housing requirements with those falling significantly below seeing decision making being passed to planning inspectors with a strong presumption in favour of sustainable development being in place.

“There is mixed news for housebuilders, the large ones will benefit from a track record of delivering units in scale when this becomes a material consideration in determining applications.

“Those involved in the planning system will question the proposal to allow shorter periods for implementation of consents given how the system continues to groan under substantial underinvestment and the issues around, amongst other things, discharging pre-commencement conditions.”

Dominic Martin, business development director Atlas Residential

“We welcome PM Theresa May’s push for reform to the the National Planning Policy Framework. In short the situation remains that we need more homes and both local authorities and developers/housebuilders have their part to play.

“From a Build-to-Rent perspective, one of the biggest barriers, as cited in an industry forum only last month, is a lack of awareness by local authorities in many secondary and tertiary UK towns and cities about what this new product really is and how it can benefit their local renting community. 

“Therefore, an education of officers (both planning and housing) but also members, especially those on planning committees is critical and requires a fresh drive from both those within the sector and wider government.”

Theresa May image: Palinchak/

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