Housing Campaigners Criticise UK Government’s ‘Worrying’ Planning Overhaul

Generation Rent says that loopholes in the government’s new housing plans could damage social housing infrastructure.
August 6, 2020, 5:36pm
Government Planning Overhaul Could 'Hand Higher Profits to Developers,' Warns Housing Group
Photo via Alamy 

New housing plans from the government could “deprive local areas of infrastructure and hand higher profits to developers,” campaign group Generation Rent has warned.

In a white paper published today, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government outlined new rules for developers who wish to build in England. Part of the proposals mean that councils will no longer be able to approve individual planning applications. Instead, local authorities will pre-determine areas where developers can build, creating a zonal system whereby land is defined as for “growth,” “renewal” or “protection.”

Developers will automatically be allowed to build on land classified for “growth.” It is unclear whether councils would have the power to stop certain developments on “growth” land.

The white paper also scraps Section 106, legislation allowing councils to state that developers must build a proportion of affordable homes as a condition of planning permission. The government is yet to announce a replacement for Section 106, but claims that the new plans deliver “at least as much, if not more” affordable housing. Housing secretary Robert Jenrick dismissed fears that this change will lead to less affordable homes as “nonsense”.

But housing campaign group Generation Rent says that the new housing plans could damage the future of social housing and that “worrying exemptions” may see developers increase their profits.

“The biggest problem with the planning system at the moment is the ease with which property developers can wriggle out of building social housing and contributing to the local community,” Dan Wilson Craw, deputy director at Generation Rent, told VICE News. “The government is replacing this process with a new levy but worrying exemptions from this will deprive local areas of infrastructure and hand higher profits to developers.”

“Where the levy does apply, the risk is that it will only fund discounted homes for sale and do nothing to house the millions of people languishing on council waiting lists,” he continued. “If it’s serious about fixing the housing crisis, the government must prioritise low-cost homes for rent.”

While the government claims that the overhaul of housing rules “actively encourages sustainable, beautiful, safe and useful development rather than obstructing it,” many have pointed out that the plans include an expansion to the controversial Permitted Development Rights that make way for “slum housing”.

Polly Neate, head of policy at Shelter, warned that the new plans could further damage the country’s social housing numbers.

“Decades of political decisions have left social housing gravely endangered,” she said in a press release. “If the government now removes the requirement for developers to build their fair share it could face extinction. Over a million households on waiting lists for social homes risk having their hopes dashed.”

“Section 106 agreements between developers and councils are tragically one of the only ways we get social homes built these days, due to a lack of direct government investment,” she continued. “So, it makes no sense to remove this route to genuinely affordable homes without a guaranteed alternative.”