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Planning reform unashamedly backs building

The National Planning Policy Framework is published today amid criticism it gives a free pass to steamroller over England’s green and pleasant land.

It is the “presumption in favour for sustainable development” clause that has provoked the most controversy.

National newspapers are running campaigns against the moves while green campaigners claim it could be environmentally damaging and a ’developer’s charter’.

The government has responded bullishly with cabinet office minister Francis Maude describing concerns as “b****cks” and local government minister Greg Clark branding opponents “selfish nihilists”.

Nimbyism dies hard and when combined with plans for a high-speed railway to rip through the Cotswalds the issue of development will provoke heated exchanges.

But the government has stuck to its guns and today published the NPPF as a precursor to growth.

Adam Challis, head of research at Hamptons International, says: “The pro “vs” anti debate on housing provision has been antiquated and genuinely misses the key social impacts. Rather than ‘concreting the countryside’, the planning system has been successfully ‘de-greening our cities’ instead.”

“It is about time that we get real about housing need, as current actions on all sides fall woefully short of what is required to improve housing delivery volumes. “Greenfield development must form part of the development land mix in order to meet housing delivery targets.”

Stewart Baseley, executive chairman of the Home Builders Federation, says: “The proposals are sensible and will balance a community’s housing needs against environmental and other considerations.

“We now need to see the policies implemented quickly so we can start to tackle the country’s acute housing crisis.”

The chronic shortage of house building in this country must be tackled and the entire economy relies on a vibrant construction industry.

Permissions for fewer than 34,000 new homes were approved in Q1 in England, compared with 40,000 in Q1 2010 and against a quarterly housing requirement of nearly 60,000 based on the government’s household projections.

In Q1 2006 over 60,000 permissions were granted by local authorities. Things are moving backwards.

Antiquated planning laws must not obstruct this priority and it is to the government’s credit they have given house building a shot in the arm. Simplifying planning guidelines from a 1,300 pages to a 50 page document can only help builders cut through the mountain of red tape.

The lack of affordable housing is down to a lack of building leading demand to vastly outstrip supply over the last decade and causing house prices to rocket.

It is not a sustainable long-term situation while the short-term economic environment needs a boost.

With growth projections for 2012 revised down from 3.5% two years ago to 0.8% last week Britain desperately needs growth.

Each home built creates 1.5 full-time jobs , according to the Michael Ball report while increasing house-building by 130,000 units per year –  the projected government household levels – would create 195,000 jobs.

The HBF estimates twice that number of jobs are created in the supply chain, close to 400,000 jobs.

Investment

The changes will not presume development over protected areas such as green belt land or national parks and is focussed primarily on reducing the amount of time it takes to get something built.

It will surely encourage investment from builders in the UK housing market as the risk of any proposals being bogged down for years has been reduced by today’s move.

The government has taken a bold policy step and it must now get on with the unglamourous but essential business of implementation to get Britain building again. Putting the policy into place immediately for councils without local is a bold and welcome first move.

The HBF warned that local authority interpretation could still prove crucial in practice if trenchant nimbyism kicks in.

With the NewBuy scheme launched earlier this month, the home builders fund expanded in the Budget and now an overhaul of planning regulations the government is certainly doing its best to boost building.

House building figures have been disappointing since the coalition government came to power and the government have been touchy about criticism.

Notably housing minister Grant Shapps got in a flap when questioned about a collapse in building numbers on a radio show.

Now though its policies are in place and the long haul of making them successful begins.

There have been many false dawns for house building over the decades but maybe this is the starting pistol on solving Britain’s housing crisis.

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