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Housing Deals - a catalyst for facilitating development, political posturing or a return to regional planning by proxy?

The first confirmed ‘Housing Deal’ has been announced in Oxfordshire, alongside emerging housing packages for the West Midlands, West of England and Greater Manchester.

he first confirmed ‘Housing Deal’ has been announced in Oxfordshire, alongside emerging housing packages for the West Midlands, West of England and Greater Manchester. To read more about the housing deals please click here.

For Oxfordshire, this includes £215 million funding and a commitment to adopt a statutory joint plan by 2021. The deal also introduces so called ‘planning flexibilities’ for the authorities in the county. These include the introduction of a county-wide 3 year housing land supply being applied whilst the new Joint Spatial Plan is being prepared, as well as a bespoke Housing Delivery Test. 

In addition to access to Government funding, the various housing deals will have much broader implications on the operation of the planning system in these regions. Whilst political statements suggest that the funding is secured on the basis of an increase in housing delivery, the reality is that there is no real step change in delivery proposed in any of the regions as a consequence.

Whether this is a partial return to regional / sub-regional planning remains to be seen, but it is a clear indicator of emerging Government policy and heed must be taken to the implications for future local plan making and decision taking across the country.

We asked our co-owners in the regions affected to offer their thoughts and insight into these announcements:

1. Oxfordshire housing deal

“The Oxfordshire Growth deal, agreed between all of the authorities, commits to the delivery of 100,000 homes by 2031. Whilst on the face of it this is to be welcomed, it is disappointing that when the detail is considered this amounts to no more housing than the cumulative amount being promoted through each individual authority’s recent or emerging Local Plan, and indeed, would provide less housing that suggested by the 2014 SHMA. The elephant in room remains how to plan for the unmet needs of Oxford City, which still remains unresolved given South Oxfordshire’s reluctance to sign up to apportionment across the county.

However, through the Oxfordshire Growth Board there is a commitment as part of the Housing Deal to submit a Joint Spatial Plan by 2021. The intention to produce a bespoke housing delivery test and implement a 3 year housing land supply requirement whilst the Joint Spatial Plan is being advanced will likely constrain rather than support higher and more ambitious delivery of housing in the region, at least in the short term. In effect, the councils are being given significant funding and protection from ‘speculative’ planning applications over the next few years for effectively maintaining the status quo, when true housing need in the county is much greater than that stated, particularly when recognising the true economic growth potential of the area.  

The eagerly anticipate Oxford-Cambridge expressway is expected to move forward following the publication of the preferred route in summer 2018, and the deal provides the opportunity for those wishing to promote new locally led garden towns to express their interest.  It is disappointing that these announcements have yet to appear as they will have significant implication for planning in the county. One positive to take from the deal, given their proactive nature to date, is that Oxfordshire County Council will continue to be the accountable body for the Growth Board. With no single authority agenda this should assist in moving matters forward across the county as a whole.”

Sara Dutfield, Director, Reading


2. West Midlands housing package

“There have been significant announcements regarding housing delivery in the West Midlands in recent weeks.  Firstly, the “Greater Birmingham HMA Strategic Growth Study” was published in February providing an independent evidence base on housing need and supply and recommends 11 strategic “Areas of Search” to meet the housing shortfall across the 14 local authorities in the period to 2031 and 2036.  Secondly, on the back of the second devolution deal agreed in November 2017 an “Outline” Housing Package for the West Midlands Combined Authority was announced by Government in the Spring Statement to facilitate the delivery of 215,000 homes by 2030/31. 

To confuse matters, the Greater Birmingham HMA and WMCA cover different geographies and local authorities, and the Housing Package does not relate to the extended timeframe assessed in the Strategic Growth Study.  Nevertheless, the Housing Package pledges up to £350m in funding and will involve a delivery partnership between Government, the WMCA and Homes England.  A condition of the deal is that local plans are updated by the end of 2019 to ensure the 215,000 homes are delivered. This is a tall order having regard to current plan-making commitments and there is no indication that the 14 authorities are close to agreeing how the housing target should be distributed. The WMCA does not benefit from strategic plan-making powers so has limited control to drive forward plan reviews but if the condition is to be achieved it will surely need to play a part in facilitating the process.”

Matthew Fox, Director, Birmingham


3. West of England housing package

“The outline of the interim housing package for the West of England includes a welcome commitment to accelerate housing deliver to 7,500 homes per year in the early years of the Joint Spatial Plan (JSP). However, the package does not include any ambition to deliver any more housing overall than is already set out in the draft JSP, a figure that many consider to be low and failing to recognise the true housing needs of the region.

The Government funding support to establish a strategic delivery team to progress large sites is helpful as resourcing issues across the WoE authorities has been a challenge and, unless addressed, will stifle the housing delivery ambitions in the region. This is a timely investment as the JSP moves to submission and as identified strategic sites are progressed.

There is also confirmation that forward funding bids for the Bristol Temple Meads to Keynsham strategic growth corridor and enabling infrastructure for the M5 /A38 strategic development locations will be taken forward to the co-development stage. If those bids are successful, this has the potential to support delivery in those strategic development locations and delivery key infrastructure that will have much wider benefits.

The WoE authorities will work with Homes England to identify and potentially acquire strategic and stalled sites and, importantly, to focus such investment on place making and design. There is a commitment to develop the deal to increase housing delivery and I hope that these discussions will lead to greater aspiration from the WoE authorities, backed up by support from Government, to make a true step change in housing delivery and to tackle affordability issues in the region.”

Jeff Richards, Office Director, Bristol 


4. Greater Manchester housing package

“The outline “housing package” for Greater Manchester confirms a commitment to deliver 227,200 new homes across the conurbation by 2035. This will be a disappointment to many in the industry.  It is the level proposed in the draft Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF) in 2016 and represents only a marginal uplift on the minimum number of homes implied by the Government’s proposed standard method. It is far below the amount required to ensure the amount and type of housing that is needed support the sustainable economic growth of the conurbation.  It is unlikely to go far enough to address the increasing affordability challenges and shortages of good quality family homes which continue to constrain the labour market and exclude many, particularly younger people and first time buyers, from the housing market in all parts of the city region.

We would have hoped Greater Manchester would be more ambitious given its role in the Northern Powerhouse, its devolution agenda and the infrastructure funding it is to receive from Government. The Government’s commitment to providing an additional £68.25 million of Government funding and commitment to developing the business case for long-planned infrastructure schemes, such as the Bolton and Wigan Key Route Network, are to be welcomed. They will help to create the conditions for growth. It is now critical that Greater Manchester capitalises on the opportunities available to it both to ease housing pressures and encourage business investment.  As this funding appears contingent on meeting ambitious timescales for adoption of the GMSF and district level Local Plans it is clear that councils will need to commit much greater resource to these processes and significantly increase the current rate of progress with plan making.”

Nick Graham, Associate Director, Manchester

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