The White Paper has much in it to engage with. It is full of intent and aspiration – for a once in a generation overhaul, rightly so. The promises of considerable resources and a digital revolution are tantalising. But where are the numbers?
To make beauty happen, the numbers need to work. The landowner has to make money or why would she sell. The developer has to make a decent profit margin, else why would she bother. Some sites are easier to make stack up than others. That blunt reality has been reflected in national guidance for some years.
Infrastructure planning and delivery at a strategic, authority and site level requires careful thought and thought can take time. At a site level, elements of the proposed development may be negotiated (including as to height and density) to ensure viability.
So in a rush of policy reform that has produced a White Paper (although it feels fairly Green), where are the numbers?
- Local Plans could set detailed site requirements including as to height and density. There could be a slimmed down sustainable development test incorporating an assessment of deliverability. What level of scrutiny will there be as to viability?
- Local design codes could be set by communities to meet local “preference” and ensure buildings are beautiful. How will it be assessed as to whether preference is affordable and deliverable?
- The new flat-rate Infrastructure Levy could be nationally set based on value, at a single or area specific rates. Viability risk might be removed by setting a threshold value below which the levy would not be charged. This approach detaches “planning gain” from the actual uplift. Where is the modelling on how this might work in practice?
- Affordable housing could be provided through “in-kind” provision on-site, and the difference between the sales price of the units as market and affordable deducted from the amount of the levy payable. How will this ensure that affordable housing provision is driven up? Will this deliver the product that affordable housing providers want and need?
- What about the provision of schools, open spaces, SANG and other community facilities and infrastructure? How will the new system secure, fund and deliver these?
There are further consultations to come which will no doubt put flesh on the bones of policy aspiration and help provide answers to the above. Can a system inspired by Bath, Belgravia and Bournville deliver affordable homes and infrastructure across all parts of our nation? Show us the numbers and let us have an informed conversation about what underpins the world of development.
Our proposals seek a significantly simpler, faster and more predictable system. They aim to facilitate a more diverse and competitive housing industry, in which smaller builders can thrive alongside the big players, where all pay a fair share of the costs of infrastructure and the affordable housing existing communities require and where permissions are more swiftly turned into homes. We are cutting red tape, but not standards. This Government doesn’t want to just build houses. We want a society that has re-established powerful links between identity and place, between our unmatchable architectural heritage and the future, between community and purpose. Our reformed system places a higher regard on quality, design and local vernacular than ever before, and draws inspiration from the idea of design codes and pattern books that built Bath, Belgravia and Bournville. Our guiding principle will be as Clough Williams-Ellis said to cherish the past, adorn the present and build for the future.