House of Commons debate, Access to affordable housing and planning reform, November 2021

Only a publicly financed substantial programme of council house building supported by government grants for construction will help the Government meet its target of 300,000 new homes. This means cooperation and partnership across the sector, including Government, councils, housing associations, landowners/developers, and the construction sector.

Key messages

  • Councils already play a vital role in housing supply as planning and housing authorities, as partners with house builders and registered providers, as direct builders, as providers of homes for the most vulnerable and as local place leaders. Local authorities have historically played a key role in delivering housing at scale in England. Working in partnership with Government, local government can help deliver much needed high-quality housing to achieve the Government’s goal of 300,000 new homes per year.
  • With previous research for the LGA and partners showing that investment in a new generation of social housing could return £320 billion to the nation over 50 years, the arguments for investment in social housing as an economic stimulus will grow stronger post COVID-19. Building 100,000 new social homes per year would result in a £14.5 billion boost to the economy. This would kick start our construction sector with 89,000 jobs worth £3.9 billion and adding £4.8 billion in gross value to the overall £14.5 million boost, with a further £5.7 billion to the supply chain. This would also improve the public finances over thirty years by the equivalent of £24.3 billion in today’s money. It would also offer a pathway out of expensive and insecure private renting, and on towards ownership.
  • Only a publicly financed substantial programme of council house building supported by government grants for construction will help the Government meet its target of 300,000 new homes. This means cooperation and partnership across the sector, including Government, councils, housing associations, landowners/developers, and the construction sector. Since 2018, new homes have delivered almost £148 billion of construction output, of which 16 per cent was delivered by the public sector.
  • The LGA shares the Government’s aspirations for an efficient, well-resourced planning system that supports local involvement in designing, planning and creating great places for current and future generations. To succeed in meeting these challenges the planning system needs to be transparent, fit for purpose, and accessible to all. As we await the publication of the Planning Bill, we want to work together with the Government to get any changes to the planning system right.
  • Planning is not a barrier to housing delivery and growth. 9 in 10 planning applications are approved by councils, and more than a million homes given planning permission in the last decade not yet built. 2,782,300 homes have been granted planning permission by councils since 2010/11 but over the same period only 1,627,730 have been built. Councils need the tools to both require and incentivise landowners and developers to build high quality homes in a timely way once planning permissions or local plan allocations are given
  • As the we set out in our response to the Government’s consultation into Supporting Housing Delivery and Public Service Infrastructure, the LGA is also concerned about proposals for new permitted development rights (PDR). The Government’s own research highlighting how conversions to residential through change of use PDR can fail to meet adequate design standards, avoid contributing to local areas and create worse living environments. The report also found that PDR undermined the ability of councils to bring about positive changes to their places by limiting their influence to repurpose town centre assets. Councils and their communities have already been left with a long-term legacy of negative impacts resulting from some of the 19 amendments to the General Permitted Development Order since 2015.

Affordable housing

  • The House of Commons briefing paper Tackling the under-supply of housing in England found that it is widely accepted that in many areas there needs to be a significant increase in the number of new homes delivered per year to keep up with population growth and tackle years of under-supply. Only a publicly financed substantial programme of council house building supported by Government grants for construction will help the Government meet its target of 300,000 new homes per year.
  • According to a UCL report, the Government’s Affordable Homes Programme grant funding is not sufficient in to deliver affordable homes at scale to meet the need. The report found the Government’s current approach – announcing new funding every five or so years – to be highly inefficient because it gives only short-term certainty over the future availability of grant. A lack of certainty can lead to pronounced peaks and troughs in delivery, with ‘lumpiness’ that drives up per unit costs and has the knock-on effect of preventing innovation and investment in the housebuilding supply chain. Any downturn in the market further compounds such effects in the housing market.
  • Councils play a key role in helping tackle the national housing shortage. To do this councils need to be empowered to build more affordable, good quality homes at scale, and fast, where these are locally needed. A genuine renaissance in council housebuilding is required to boost housing supply, help families struggling to meet housing costs, and tackle housing waiting lists. It also presents an opportunity to mainstream the use of Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) in UK housing delivery, as well as an accelerated switch to sources of renewable energy in a new generation of social rented homes.
  • Councils have been proactively addressing the challenge of building more homes, and with more help they could make a significant contribution. Analysis undertaken in 2019 showed that councils were planning to build more than 77,000 homes in the next five years, and while the unforeseeable implications of Covid-19 will impact these projections, councils remain well placed to continue housebuilding.
  • In the LGA’s paper ‘Delivery of council housing: a stimulus package post-pandemic’ we set out the steps, measures and reforms that would support councils to work towards delivering a new generation of 100,000 high quality social homes per year. This research also found that access to a social rent home provides families with greater housing and financial stability. Compared to private rental, a household typically saves £37 per week in social housing. Council homes also offer the potential for social mobility. Most social rent tenants are under 45 years old, and the share of them in employment is growing. Those in social rent tenancy typically have higher incomes than those waiting for a social rent home. Social rent is also an avenue for homeownership, by allowing families greater scope to save and accumulate wealth.

Planning reforms

  • In August 2020, the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG now DLUHC) published the Planning for the Future White Paper with proposals for long-term fundamental structural changes to England’s planning system.
  • Subsequently, in the Queen’s Speech on 11 May 2021, a Planning Bill to implement the White Paper planning reforms was announced however it has faced delay.
  • The LGA, the current proposals lack the detail needed for full debate and comment. This has led to wide-ranging concerns about how the proposals would work in practice. Whilst we recognise the Government’s aspiration to improve the current system, without addressing many of the detailed issues, there is a significant risk that proposed changes could have a detrimental effect on the planning system.
  • We recommend that any proposals in the Planning Bill are considered within the context of other new legislation and policies. This means taking a joined up, whole of government approach, aligning with other integral Government legislation such as the Environment Bill and Building Safety Bill, and wider agendas such as Climate Change, Net Zero, and COP26, and Levelling-Up.
  • The LGA has raised concerns about the timing of a wholesale overhaul of the existing system and change to a new system, including the necessary legislation. This will create uncertainty and take many years to deliver and implement across Whitehall and the wider planning sector. Constant changes to national planning policy over successive Government administrations have undermined councils’ critical role in placemaking. Austerity measures have further cut vital resources for council staff and capacity necessary to lead on and carry out this work. 
  • As we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic we need stability and certainty in planning, supported by the appropriate resourcing. The LGA’s Keep Planning Local campaign calls for a locally-led planning system in which councils and the communities they represent have a say over the way places develop. This will ensure the delivery of high-quality affordable homes with the necessary infrastructure to create sustainable, resilient places.  
  • Local authorities will need the appropriate resources to lead on the transition and implementation to a more streamlined approach. However, planning fees already do not cover the true cost of processing applications and taxpayers currently subsidise the cost at a rate of nearly £180 million a year. This significantly reduces their capacity to ensure the delivery of new housing through the planning process and enable the new supply of housing and appropriate infrastructure. 
  • We are still concerned that local authorities with a Local Plan that do not have a 5-year housing land supply or are unable to meet the national Housing Delivery Test will be subject to the national presumption in favour penalty. The evidence shows that councils are approving nine in 8 10 planning applications and over a million homes already allocated in Local Plans are waiting to be taken up by the development industry. Our analysis, compiled following a survey of council heads of planning, estimates that more than a third, or 1 million of the 2.7 million homes allocated in current Local Plans in England have not even been submitted into the planning system.


Jonah Munn

[email protected]