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‘Critical’ shake-up of local housebuilding rules needed

A government-commissioned working group has called for simpler, more consistent local standards for housebuilding.

The Local Housing Delivery Group brought together councils and housebuilders in a bid to find a way forward for the beleaguered sector.

It said its recommendations were even more important after the publication of the National Planning Policy Framework, which overhauls planning guidance in England.

Former Environment Agency chairman Sir John Harman, who chaired the review, said the UK faced a “dangerous low” in housing supply, and required the creation and maintenance of a unified system of regulation.

“Like a teenager’s bedroom, the planning landscape needs clearing up,” he said.

“Since the demolition of central planning guidelines and the abolition of regional guidance, the role of local authorities becomes even more critical.
“The game has now changed - one cannot afford to take this advice lightly.”

The group’s report, A Review of Standards for the Delivery of New Homes, recommended the unification of local requirements for housebuilding.
It looked at the 10 most common standards imposed at local level - such as accessibility, energy and car parking.

The report said they were often conflicting or overlapping, and argued that many should be embedded within the Building Regulations.

It said: “Today, when new home building is near a historic low point, yet housing need is increasing, a system that seems designed to amplify, by its complexity, the cost of building homes of good quality is unjustifiable.

“We hope that this report will provide the springboard for the creation of a more coherent and practicable system of standards in new housing.”

In a separate report, the group called for a cumulative approach to impact assessment, with a balance struck between sustainability and economic viability.

Viability Testing Local Plans said the planning process should involve collaboration with local bodies and that Local Plans should be tested for their chances of success before they were set.

“Plans may be aspirational but realistic, and should ensure that the impact of the policies when read as a whole should be such that the plan is deliverable,” said the report.

Home Builders Federation executive chairman Stewart Basely said the group intended to “ensure that local plans are deliverable and that standards and policies applied locally have a clear local justification and do not undermine the viability of the local plan”.

He added: “We can’t ignore the fact that we are facing the most acute housing crisis in history.”

Councillor Ed Turner, a member of the LGA’s environment and housing board, said the report would prevent lengthy delays occurring as a result of a slow planning process.

He added that planning standards were currently too unpredictable and varied.

“It’s better for two football teams to have some sort of idea what the rules will be,” he said. “At the moment we have a constant attempt to reinvent the wheel and a constant attempt to rewrite the notebook on viability planning.”

Communities minister Andrew Stunnel said: “There is scope for simplification and for building a consensus, but there is a very dense forest that we will have to navigate.”


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