Lyons Review – some observations
The report on housing supply prepared by Sir Michael Lyons for the Labour Party contains much detail and a host of policy recommendations. These have been widely reported. Are some of the recommendations, though, in danger of making the current system even more complicated and therefore slower to deliver the targeted 200,000 homes per year?
Land banking – the proposal is that allocated land not brought forward within five years is to pay Council Tax as if it has been built out. This will only apply where land is deliverable but under the current rules land should only be allocated if it is shown to be deliverable in the first place. Many reasons in the real world can hamper delivery, not least those delays created by the planning system. The proposal for option agreements and prices to be registered at the Land Registry would seem to take transparency too far you may feel. Alternative mechanisms may be required to protect commercial interests. Reducing life spans of permissions to two years and requiring more substantive works to implement permissions may also have practical impacts.
Local Plans – the recommendation is that if a council does not have a local plan by December 2016 or it is wholly inadequate then PINS could draw up an acceptable plan. Really? That sounds miles away from Localism (which Labour supports) and we question whether PINS has that expertise. A two stage plan of strategic first level and then more detail in the second plan sounds very much like a return to the LDF model which hasn’t really worked.
National spatial vision – surely one of the best recommendations. The proposal reflects what many have been seeking for some time, a national spatial dimension to the NPPF so that key infrastructure is seen as a catalyst for allocating key housing growth areas. This could combine well with the recommendation for new garden cities.
Housing Growth Areas – councils would designate these and then require owners to pool their land into a joint venture which would then market the land to developers. CPO would be the stick if owners did not co-operate. Perhaps a nice idea in theory but we can only think that the complexities of pooling land among the private sector may only be made more complex and slower with public involvement. Councils rarely have the expertise or desire to use CPO powers. Another recommendation of New Homes Corporations across a strategic housing market area, therefore, is more likely to deliver the land particularly when combined with the recommendation to adapt the compensation rules so owners receive good compensation but not the potential windfalls that can exist nowadays. Another good recommendation is for councils in strategic housing market areas to prepare Strategic Housing Market Plans. This is complete sense as the duty to co-operate is not solving sub-regional housing issues.
Brownfield first – haven’t we been here before and it didn’t work / there is not the land in the places where SHMAs tell us people wish to live?
CIL – removing the imminent restriction on pooling of section 106 agreements to deliver infrastructure is sensible. The recommendation for CIL to be reviewed again is not surprising. The system is so complicated now you question whether it has a future at all.
Planning fees – councils being given power to set fees at the local level in exchange for improvements in service. We are sure the industry would not have a problem with locally set fees. The problem is whether, in the real world, this would result in a swifter and more reliable service.
There are a number of good recommendations in the Lyons Report but perhaps some, in truth, are rebadging of previous ideas. Some of those ideas haven’t worked before so caution is required. Surely what is required is for the planning system to be stable rather than constantly changing and for a Government to recognise that Localism in its purist form runs counter to a more top down system of planning which must surely be required if numbers are to materially increase. This, combined with adoption of a limited number of the best recommendations, could be a way forward.
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