The Housing and Planning Act 2016: The Facts

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In the UK on the 12 May 2016, the Housing and Planning Act 2016 received Royal Assent and passed into the law of the land. Across a broad spectrum of subjects, the act deals with several aspects, including housing, estate agents, rent charges, planning and compulsory purchases. Many of the changes are minor amendments to legislation, additions to clauses, redefinitions and clarifications.

The Housing and Planning Bill was first introduced in October 2015 by Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Greg Clark, but it has taken a great deal of negotiation between the House of Lords and House of Commons before it’s been passed. The aim of the proposed bill when it was announced was a national crusade to get one million homes built by 2020 in the UK. It is hoped that this bill will make it easier for first-time buyers and renters to be able to get on the property ladder and own a home of their own – something that is seen as a pipe-dream to many recent middle-income graduates.  So it is one of the most important pledges made in the bill to build 200,000 starter homes. These will be available to first-time buyers aged between 23 and 40, at a price 20% below their market value.

Changes to existing legislation

There are amends to the ‘New Towns Act 1981’ and how the siting of new towns is decided. There’s also increased powers for the Mayor of London regarding planning applications and the urban development process.  Other legislation changes outlined range from changes to tenancy law (a shift from secure tenancies to fixed-term tenancies), the promotion of self-build and custom-build housing, tighter reins and penalties on ‘rogue landlords’ and the forced sale of empty, high-value local authority (LA) properties. This is to part-fund right-to-buy LA policies to further promote home ownership. Social housing lost in this manner will be replaced with affordable housing. There are also revisions to the definition and sizes of affordable housing and how to allow building developments to go forward, dependant on the perceived need. ‘Affordable housing’ now means properties that ‘are to be made available for people whose needs are not adequately served by the commercial housing market, or are starter homes’. Ministers have been criticised for broadening the definition of affordable housing to include so-called starter homes costing up to £450,000, which is 17 times the average British salary.

Speeding up the system

With regards to planning and building control, the Act aims to make it easier for land to become available for construction and for developers to be able to get projects moving faster. There will also be powers to force LAs to formulate a ‘Local Plan’ where they do not have one. Current planning policy puts Local Plans at the centre of local government’s ongoing planning system. They look at local needs and opportunities in housing, infrastructure, the economy and in community facilities – and set out a map of how areas can be developed in the future. Local Plans, together with Neighbourhood Plans, are an essential part of the planning process and are often vital in determining planning decisions.

The speeding up of the planning system will help to deliver more houses, faster. The 2016 Act introduces legislation called ‘Permission in Principle’. This amendment to the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 is designed to allow automatic consent for potential housing sites identified in Local Plans and new Brownfield (i.e. formerly developed) Registers, subject to further discussion of the proposals. This will help local planning authorities to ‘get the ball rolling’ so to speak and begin the process of planning permissions more swiftly.  ‘Permission in Principle’ may be granted for housing-led development of land in England, but may not be granted for development consisting of ‘the winning and working of minerals’.

The 2016 Act also calls for each Local Authority to prepare, maintain and publish registers of land that are deemed to be of a prescribed description or that satisfy prescribed criteria. There are also changes to Planning Freedoms, which are defined as the ‘right for local areas to request alterations to planning system’. A planning freedoms scheme is one that ‘disapplies or modifies specified planning provisions in order to facilitate an increase in the amount of housing in the planning area concerned’.

These planning and housing reforms are a timely tie-in with the ethos of iApply, the innovative technology from Idox, which aims to further facilitate the planning and building control process. Its goal is to make the interaction between LA’s planning and building control procedures and those developing and building projects more fluid and flexible. For further information on how iApply can support you, visit www.iapply.co.uk.

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