Shapps moves to reassure housebuilders

11 June 2010

Housing minister Grant Schapps has claimed that housebuilding will increase under the coalition government despite anxiety in the industry that schemes are already being put on hold.

Construction News reported on a speech Shapps made at the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, where he said that the emergency Budget would reveal details of “powerful incentives instead of meaningless targets” and would be followed by further guidance.

He explained that the incentives – based on matching local authorities’ council tax receipts for every home built for a period of six years – would apply to all houses built from April 2011.

He said that as local councils will soon be setting their budgets for the next financial year, they would be able to factor the incentives into their planning decisions on proposed developments.

But Building pointed to growing evidence that planning changes are already slowing development since Eric Pickles, the communities secretary, wrote to all councils on 27 May. The letter said that  he intended to “abolish regional strategies and return decision-making powers to councils” and that councils could consider the letter “in decisions they are currently taking”.

Since then, up to 40 councils have taken action to halt schemes, change planned housing numbers or delay planning inquiries, according to the House Builders Association (HBA).

For instance, the magazine said that Cotswold District Council had cut its annual housing target from 345 to 300. South Oxfordshire Council was the first to abandon work on its core strategy, which included plans for 5,000 new homes.

Home Builders Association strategic policy adviser Roger Humber told Construction News that as many as 40 per cent of local authorities had now stopped their local plans.

“There is a black hole in planning,” he said. “The fear we all expressed that these policies would result in a return to nimbyism is turning out to be true.”

Shapps acknowledged that anxiety had been created by the letter sent out to planning chiefs. But in the RICS speech he said: “I understand the concerns and do not want to underplay them. But give us a couple of weeks’ breathing space.

“We will hear more in the Budget on 22 June. I know that the anxiety is out there but I absolutely want to reassure we will be building more homes.”

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