Long-term Plan for Housing - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:17 pm on 11 January 2024.

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Photo of Baroness Penn Baroness Penn Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities) 2:17, 11 January 2024

My Lords, I will endeavour to answer the questions from both noble Baronesses as fully as I can, but it is first worth reflecting on what this update to the NPPF sought to do. Both noble Baronesses rightly situated it in the context of the broader changes in the Levelling-up and Regeneration Act to bring forward a reformed planning system that allows more homes to be built in the right places, more quickly, more beautifully and more sustainably.

The right way to do this is through a reformed planning system. In December last year, we laid out our plan to do that. We made it abundantly clear that the only way to do so is through up-to-date local plans, which local authorities can deliver for communities to protect the land and assets that matter most and lay the foundation for economic growth. Part of that plan for reform was the update to the National Planning Policy Framework. In December 2022, we consulted on a series of proposals that received more than 26,000 responses, which we have worked through in detail. The updates that we made, which were announced at the end of last year, strike a careful balance between delivering homes that our communities need and protecting the things that we care most about, such as our natural environment, heritage assets, high streets and town centres—matters referenced by both noble Baronesses. The NPPF update acknowledges that different areas and different parts of the country must be approached in different ways and that local authorities and communities are best placed to ensure that the right homes are in the right places, where they are both needed and wanted.

Both noble Baronesses asked about the change to the NPPF which clarified that the standard method of assessing housing need is the starting point for local authorities. The NPPF expects local planning authorities to evidence and provide for their housing needs. The Government are clear that the standard method should still be used to inform the process. Local authorities can put forward their own approach to assessing housing needs, but this should be used only in exceptional circumstances. Authorities can expect their method to be scrutinised closely at examination. The standard method remains the starting point for this process and only in exceptional circumstances would we expect local planning authorities to move away from that. However, it is right that we allow for those exceptional circumstances. In the updated framework, the demographics of a particular area are pointed to as the factor which might mean that an alternative method would be appropriate for that planning authority to use.

Part of delivering homes in a way that meets community needs is about having a more diversified housing market. Therefore, the framework also strengthens support for SME builders and the wider diversity of the housing market by emphasising the importance of community-led housing development, ensuring that local authorities seek opportunities to support small sites to come forward and removing barriers to smaller and medium builders in the planning system. In the long run, that will also ensure that we make progress in delivering the housing that we need and keep us on track to deliver 1 million new homes during this Parliament.

The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, asked about social housing. Her points were well made. These updates to the NPPF did not have that as a particular focus but the Government are absolutely committed to increasing the supply of affordable and social housing. That is why our latest affordable housing programme is backed by more than £11 billion. We have increased the delivery of affordable housing under this Government. I would be very happy to sit down with the noble Baroness and discuss specific planning barriers to affordable housing further.

The noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, referred to the resources needed to unlock the planning system. She is absolutely right. That is why we have increased the resources going into local planning services. The new planning rules that came into force on 6 December increase fees for major applications by 35% and minor ones by 25%. The indexing arrangements now in place also ensure that they rise in line with inflation. Beyond that, the planning skills delivery fund was boosted by £5 million to £29 million. In the first round of funding, 180 local planning authorities are receiving collectively over £14 million. We recognise that the changes we have made to the planning system in the levelling-up Act and through the changes to the NPPF need to be matched by additional resources, which we have put in.

I turn to housing standards and a range of other issues that were debated at length during the passage of the levelling-up Bill. The Government have committed to bring forward further changes to the National Planning Policy Framework, bringing in a national development management framework. We are committed to consulting on those changes this year but, for the development of local plans, we believe that the combination of the measures in the Act and those announced and changed in the NPPF at the end of last year provide clarity and certainty for local areas to be able to make their plans and deliver on them.

Where that is not proving possible for local authorities, the Secretary of State has been clear that the Government are prepared to intervene. That is why the Secretary of State issued a direction about plan-making to seven of the worst authorities. The best outcome from those directions is that the local authorities themselves bring forward plans within 12 weeks and set out a clear timetable to do so. Should they fail, we will consider further intervention, but it would be based on the particular circumstances of those local authorities and reflect their points. I do not want to pre-empt that, as the best outcome for those areas is for the local authorities to take forward those plans themselves.

We are also taking action in London, because the homes needed in the capital are simply not being built. Opportunities for urban brownfield regeneration are being left untaken, as a result of the mayor’s anti-housing policy and approach. His plan does not contain sufficient ambition for housing, and he is underdelivering against it. That is why we are undertaking an urgent review of it.

There are a number of areas from both noble Baronesses that I may not have addressed. The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, mentioned infrastructure and of course we have the housing infrastructure fund, which provides the funding needed to ensure that development can take place, is supported locally and comes with the schools, hospitals and GP places needed to support it. I undertake to write to both noble Baronesses in detail on any further points on which I need to follow up.