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Build to Rent in the planning mainstream

NPPF2 marks the arrival of Build to Rent into the planning mainstream. It has been quite a journey.

Way back in 2012, when Build to Rent barely registered in most circles, the Montague Review gave the sector a leg up in raising its visibility amongst built environment professionals.

This prompted an industry debate around the role of Build to Rent in solving the national housing crisis, underpinning regeneration projects and in creating better places. Would local authorities understand it, how should the industry articulate and sell the benefits to national and local Government? 

The conference circuit went into overdrive. 

As ever, planning seemed to be the focus of much attention. The debate raged on. Was there a need for a new use class, how can affordable housing be met in the context of the build to rent model, what planning policy stimulants are needed to create confidence in the market?

Roll on to 2018 and much of this debate has died down and it feels like we are in delivery mode. The latest figures from the BPF indicate that there are now over 124,000 Build to Rent units completed or planned across the UK and we are now seeing visible signs that the market is expanding beyond core cites and into secondary locations as demand grows.

The ground work has been laid. In NPPF2, the sector has generally achieved what it wanted. Build to Rent is rubber stamped into the framework and local authorities are compelled to consider the needs of this sector in planning for housing growth. Build to Rent schemes are exempt from normal affordable housing requirements and instead can meet their contributions through ‘Affordable Housing for Rent’ allowing units to be retained in single ownership. Great news.

Other changes to the NPPF will have consequential benefits for the sector and should provide it with a competitive advantage in ensuring that local authorities should plan positively for growth.  A new section on effective use of land places focuses on ensuring opportunities are taken to sweat brownfield resources by, for example, building above car parks and railway infrastructure and using the ‘airspace’ above existing residential and commercial premises. The extent to which such opportunities exist on a scalable level is yet to be determined. However, where they do it is likely they will be more attractive to the private rented sector than traditional build to sell developers.

The drive for optimum efficiency in the use of land goes further. NPPF2 supports the application of flexible approaches in applying policies relating to daylight and sunlight, where they would otherwise inhibit making efficient use of a site. This will help in responding to one of the key constraints of tight, city centre sites where the Build to Rent market is commonly most viable.

The revised Planning Practice Guidance due to be published in the Autumn will provide further meat on the bones, expected to cover matters including space standards and minimum tenancy conditions following the draft publication in March. 

Critical to success of the changes to NPPF will be how they are interpreted at the local level and written positively into Local Plans to ensure they plan for growth. Industry will need to hold local authorities to account in this regard. At the very least, the good work of bodies like the BPF will need to continue, particularly at the local level. This is particularly important given the expectation that Local Plans will need to specifically consider the need for Build for Rent development in creating their Local Plans. If not approached positively, this requirement could have unintended consequences in capping the amount of Build to Rent development a Local Plan supports.

Looking beyond these positive messages, we would like to have seen the NPPF do more to champion the sector, rather than merely recognise that it exists. It could have been more effective in promoting the opportunities presented by the Build to Rent sector to transform areas through its place-making focus and in pushing the boundaries of innovation in sustainability and design. Perhaps this is beyond the remit of the framework, but these are important components of the sector which must be understood if it is to thrive and maximise its contribution to meeting housing needs.  

For further information on Build to Rent, and to find out how Turley can help with you projects, please contact Andrew Bickerdike.  

6 August 2018