Jon Jennings, Director, Planning
“Today’s Housing White Paper is yet again an effort from the Government to increase productivity for housebuilders and try and speed up the planning process. There is a fine balance to be found here and we must ensure that our countryside is protected from inappropriate development whilst still providing enough new homes built to meet the UK’s chronic levels of demand.
Measures to protect the green belt whilst still delivering on the forecasted one million new homes by 2020 do seem to be at odds with one another and it will be interesting to see how this develops over the coming months. The councils now need to play a pivotal role in increasing output and delivery in a sustainable manner and by announcing that councils can take land out of the green belt in only ‘exceptional circumstances’ once again brings the responsibility of delivery to each of the UK’s individual Districts. Measures to decrease land-banking should also play a positive role in increasing the numbers of new homes built and we should certainly see an increase in available land once these restrictions on developers are put into practice. However, this should be accompanied by an increase in the decision making process and discharge of conditions.
Neighbourhood plans have also come under fire and the announcement that these should be revised to ensure that plans meet their fair share of local housing need and delivery across a wider local area can only be a positive. This is certainly something which strikes a chord with those living in our region where the development of Local Plans have been particularly slow-moving. As one of the areas with the largest disparity between demand and supply, the Greater Cambridge region really does need to be helped to deliver on housing and infrastructure, and anything which could help speed up the process is essential. A cautious approach should be taken to increasing housing densities as increased quantity does not necessarily mean quality. There is a need for increases in housing across all sectors of the housing market and the planning system needs to provide enough flexibility to allow this to happen.
The use of a consistent formula to calculate housing demand is welcomed and will allow a transparent and true assessment of housing demand to be made rather than the current scenario where figures are manipulated to meet the views of elected members.
Proposals to increase planning fees should only be allowed if they result in a real improvement in the delivery of planning permissions and are ‘ring fenced’ to planning departments. The confirmation that an increase in public sector land will be made available will help government reach its targets for housing. There are acres of under-used public sector space across the UK and these have the potential to provide huge amounts of space in viable locations for development.
The government needs to bear in mind that this is not just about delivering numbers of houses to match their forecasts, rather this is about providing homes where people will actually want to live. Brownfield sites in the centre of towns will generally provide this although there will still be demand in rural locations for new homes.”
Sarah Bush, Director, Lettings
“The private rented sector has been under the government microscope for some months now, so it did not come as a surprise that the lettings industry came under fire in today’s Housing White Paper. Whilst more homes being built specifically to rent certainly come as good news for many across the country, the suggestion of longer term tenancy agreements are definitely a concern. Despite that these are intended to give renters more security, they will in fact be unnecessary and unpopular with many sectors of the market. In transient marketplaces such as Cambridge or London, tenants are not looking to be tied into one property for more than six or twelve months, mainly due to work commitments or plans to buy property. Longer tenancies are not actually what all renters want and flexibility continues to be key in many of our markets.
We also need to consider landlords in this situation and to make it harder for them to regain possession of their property is yet another hurdle for the private rented sector to overcome. Whilst our rental market in Cambridge is incredibly strong and we are still seeing healthy levels of new instructions with increased demand from tenants, the government needs to be careful not to keep victimising the private rented sector. We still don’t know how or where these longer term tenancies will actually be enforced and the government needs to take into account how different UK cities and towns actually work. With a market which is predominantly jobs driven, Cambridge tenants will not benefit from tenancies which enforce long periods in the same location and this needs to be taken into consideration when or if these new policies are rolled out.”