Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Is the Code for Sustainable Homes dead? and COP21

How can a planning system be operated effectively when treated as a political football and made the subject of continuous change; new legislation (ie the Housing and Planning Bill 2015), tinkering with policy (ie review of the National Planning Policy Framework), together with ministerial statements, leave practitioners in both public and private sectors, those in NGOs and inspectors struggling to keep up to date and give accurate and effective advice to their clients,  councillors and supporters.

As we all know the Code for Sustainable Homes was wound down and then finally removed by the Secretary of State.  The Building Research Establishment (BRE) has suggested the form of a replacement.  Maybe nobody told the inspector who held the inquiry and reported to the officer in the Government Office who wrote the decision letter on behalf of the Secretary of State who imposed a condition requiring the development to conform to Code for Sustainable Homes Level 3.  Should officers be looking through their bins to see whether there is an old copy of the CSH that has escaped the waste/recycling stream?  Should those involved in local plans be (re)inserting policies recommending or requiring CHS compliance? Questions, questions...

If the presumption in favour of sustainable development (see para 14 of the NPPF) and s39(2) of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 (a test of 'soundness' of a local plan), are taken seriously then the energy/water efficiency of buildings should be addressed.  Clearly Level 3 of a 6 point sustainability scale cannot be sufficient at a time when all new development must 'consume its own smoke' (see Appeal Decision APP/N2345/A/12/2169598) as a contribution to the reduction in carbon emissions implied by the recent COP21 agreement to aim for only a 1.5 degree rise in global temperature.  

The use of the CSH by the Communities Secretary could be an excuse for everybody else to return the energy efficiency of buildings (including aspect and power/heat generation) to planning control and not the preserve of Part L of the Building Regulations that does not equate to 'sustainable development'.  However, CHS 3 is clearly inadequate and decision-makers should be requiring CHS 5 with allowable solutions.  Obviously this would not please George Osborne who removed the zero carbon homes target from under Greg Clark's nose, but the Chancellor would have to repeal s39(2) of the 2004 PCPA, the Climate Change Act and amend the presumption in the NPPF to prevent planners and the lpanning system from helping with the job of complying with the national and EU targets and  now the earth saving aspirations of the Paris COP.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Ten top tips

There might be time to squeeze one more post before 2016 as work is being carried out the latest consultation on further changes to the planning system and I am inclined to share my responses just in case others want to join in. However, I sometimes wonder whether it is worth recapping on past posts and listing some of the main points that need repeating.

1. Co-housing needs to be established in new and existing residential areas.  This is not just for those who are already looking to live in this neighbourly way but as a response to the need for more caring environments that are conducive to looking after each other rather than being stuck in the limbo between an isolated home, care home and hospital.

2.Co-housing again: this time as a response to the unsustainable level of under-occupation of the existing housing stock and on new developments replicating the existing housing mix rather than the average household size of 2.4 and falling.  There would be more than enough larger houses to meet that need relinquished by those choosing to downsize.  Planners should be supporting the sub-division of many of these larger houses to produce more smaller dwellings. All new larger houses should be designed to be easily and cheaply subdivided.

3. Housing land supply figures should be adjusted to account for the new dwellings being almost all two bedroomed terraces (although there could be a demand for some larger gardens and plenty of allotments.

4. Village farms or community supported agriculture should be  a feature in all local and neighbourhod plans.  Access to affordable land and associated housing should be promoted through using houses from all peripheral developments and land owned adjacent to the development site.  There was no such thing as 'affordable housing' until a judge decided that a house that could be afforded by somebody on local wages was materially different to one that was not. The same case can be made for agricultural land.

5.Self and custom building by individuals and associations of individuals should be promoted starting with the registers required by the Housing and Planning Act (that should include those wanting to be involved in agriculture/horticulture). Pressure will mount to grant permissions if the registered interest exceeds the supply of serviced plots.

6. Developers should be required to set up and fund car clubs open to new and existing residents aimed at making all new developments car neutral and avoiding a net increase in car use.

7.The national speed limit should be reduced to 55mph and 20mph in urban areas.

8. A million climate jobs should be created to put the country on target to reduce carbon emissions by 90% by 2050. The bulk of this reduction should take place in the early years starting as close to 10% per year as is possible - many in the business of improving the energy efficiency of the 80% of existing dwellings with Energy Performance Certificates of D or below.

9. Planning should be more supportive of on-shore wind and there should be incentives (including off-setting or allowable solutions) to utilise all existing roofs with suitable aspects for PV installations.

10.Please use all the opportunities offered by the system to argue for all the changes that would make new development 'sustainable' (ie consume both its own smoke and some of that emitted by existing development).  In the context of extreme weather conditions (including recent flooding), one readily available hook to hang an argument in responding to an application or local/neighbourhood plan consultation is Section 10 of the National Planning Policy Framework published in 2012 of which the Government is so proud,  titled "Meeting the challenge (nb singular) of climate change, flooding and coastal change.".  There follows advice about,'...radical reductions in greenhouse gas emissions... and supporting the delivery of renewable and low carbon energy...this is central to the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development.'.  This is all consistent with the 'presumption' in the NPPF in favour of sustainable development.

Details of all the above have been set out in previous posts.  All have social and environmental upsides and little or no economic downsides.  Despite obsessive Government tinkering only a proposed step change in self/custom-building seems to have attracted the Government's attention, partly because the volume builders do not have the capacity to meet housing needs (those to be assessed in accordance with a model based on building almost all small dwellings).  There would also be a need for 'planning' (and to the DfT for reducing speed limits) to be returned from the Treasury to the Communities Department.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

How subsidising housing could reduce supply

So the Housing and Planning Bill is proposing that about 400,000 'starter homes' be provided that will attract a 20% discount on the purchase price (to under 40s) up to a maximum of £450,0000 in London and £250,000 elsewhere.  These houses will not be required to contribute to 'necessary' infrastructure (eg affordable housing for rent) through s106 or CIL. The discount to be paid back from any sale within 5 years.  These proovisions will be subject to change as the Bill passes through its Parliamentary process. The 20% discount will come from the Treasury ie taxpayers, and the danger will be, as with all demand side incentives, that it goes into the pockets of landowners and or developers.

We learnt from the previous Blog that the Government has confirmed that development sites must contribute to necessary infrastructure including affordable housing and this must be reflected in the land price.1 This welcome reminder, together with the starter home provisions could have serious repercussions for housing land supply.

Land having been bought on the wrong assumption that viability arguments would trump the need to provide the necessary infrastructure might now become stranded.  In these cases sites which would otherwise have provided starter homes will not come forward and the Government would have to look for even greater incentives to developers.  Meanwhile, on those sites that do come forward the LPA will be required to substitute 'starter homes' for purchase for some or all of the housing previously destined for social or now more likely affordable rent (at 40% and 20% discounts of market rents respectively).  The greater the number of exemptions from paying for infrastructure, the greater the burden that will fall on the remaining housing to meet these costs.  Whilst Berkeley Homes published results showing an average profit of about £115,000 per dwelling might suggest  that there is plenty of cash to go towards infrastructure (inc affordable housing), this might not apply throughout the industry and will be very dependent on when land is bought, banked and delivered. It would be very interesting to know just how much of Berkeley profits are attributable  to housing being allowed by LPAs (including the London Mayor) and Inspectors/Sec of State with less affordable housing than was 'required' by the current policies? The Inspector being challenged by Islington LBC accepted that requiring more than 14% affordable housing would threaten the viability of the scheme.

The fundamental question must be where key workers will be housed. Houses at 20% of market prices would be affordable in less than 5% of the Country without other substantial support from the taxpayers (eg Funding for Lending and Help to Buy). Meanwhile the number of houses at affordable let alone social rent is being reduced. At the same time as housing (including affordable housing) is being accepted in the Housing and Planning Bill as 'infrastructure', the ability of developers to deliver houses is being reduced.  And will developers be able to sell houses in areas where necessary infrastructure and key worker housing is not being provided?

It would not be surprising if housing supply including the provision of both starter homes and affordable/social housing are all suppressed as a result of the incoherent interference with the economics of housing 'demand'.  If supply is maintained this would have to be through inflating the prices of housing not affected by these policies.  Is this what the Government really intends?

 Meanwhile it is becoming clear that the forced sale of houses by Housing Associations funded by the sale of other social housing will result in a significant reduction in social or affordable housing that will not be made good by the 'Treasury' on the one for one basis promised.

All this could be foreseen by those following the pronouncements of Policy Exchange before its Alex Morton started working for the Government and presumably wrote much of the Housing and Planning Bill .