Force developers to build less “homogenous” homes: Letwin

The government should adopt a new set of planning rules to speed up building in areas of high demand, and to force developers to provide more varied housing options, an influential report has concluded.

Former minister Sir Oliver Letwin was asked to conduct an independent review of build out rates in last year’s Budget. He has published his final report and recommendations, with the government expected to respond in the new year.

While chancellor Philip Hammond said this report found no evidence of speculative landbanking, the report does criticise major housebuilders for providing “homogenous” housing on larger sites, which can be slow to sell.

Letwin recommends that the government should adopt new planning rules specifically for sites of more than 1,500 homes. These should force site developers to provide a range of housing options, rather than identikit properties.

He also recommended the establishment of a National Expert Committee to advise local authorities on the interpretation of diversity requirement for large sites and to arbitrate in disputes between developer and local authority.

The report also suggests that the government should introduce new powers for local planning authorities to designate particularly areas within their local plans as land which can be develop only as single large sites.

He says he would also like to see these authorities create “master plans” which will ensure both a high degree of diversity and good design to promote rapid market absorption and build out rates.

But the report steps back from forcing developers to reduce their prices to speed up sales. It says: “[This] would not be sensible to attempt to solve the problem of market absorption rates by forcing the major house builders to reduce the prices at which they sell their current relatively homogenous products.”

Spicerhaart business development director Neil Knight says he had hoped for a speedier response from the government on this report.

He says: “We had hoped that the chancellor might have announced plans to speed up the build out permission process, following the publication this report, which would go a long way to help government reach its new build targets. But there was no such announcement today.”

He adds that he welcomed other announcement in the Budget including news that there will be a further £500m for the housing infrastructure fund. While this should unlock a further 650,000 homes Knight says this does not go far enough.

“Let’s just hope that when the chancellor addresses the finding of the report in there is more support for developers and local authorities so that we can start building the homes that this country so desperately needs.”

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