Skip to main content

Housing Delivery Test

Volume 802: debated on Wednesday 18 March 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the results of the Housing Delivery Test, published on 13 February.

Weird, isn’t it? My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and declare my interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association.

My Lords, following the publication of the housing delivery test results, we are engaging with those authorities facing challenges and, through the Planning Advisory Service, providing guidance to those authorities needing to produce action plans. Action plans published from last year’s results show that the authorities are taking the right steps to identify the causes of reduced housing delivery and will be working proactively to address these issues.

I thank the noble Earl, but will he take seriously the concerns about the housing delivery test? Councils are now not only responsible for the delivery of homes in their area; they get punished if they fail to do so, including through the removal of their planning powers. Yet councils—this is the rub—have zero powers to ensure that planning permissions, once granted, are built out. In fact, none of the eight interventions that the Government suggest in the relevant planning guidance pertain to the delivery of homes after planning permission. Can the Minister assure me that this test and its effectiveness will be looked at specifically in the forthcoming planning White Paper? You do not fatten a pig by weighing it.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her question. The fact is that the country needs houses. There is a commitment to 300,000 new houses, we have announced work in the Budget and, as she says, there will be White Papers on future planning and housing. All these are aimed at moving on so that we can achieve this challenging—I must agree with her—target.

She also asked about the test and how it will progress. As she knows, where delivery falls below 95%, the local authority should prepare an action plan proactively to identify the causes, but only when it falls below 45% does the presumption in favour of sustainable development get applied.

My Lords, the housing delivery test applies to those local authorities that have an adopted local plan against which to measure progress. Can my noble friend tell the House how many local authorities have not got an adopted local plan, how the delivery test applies in those cases and what action the Government are taking to ensure that those local authorities produce an adopted local plan?

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Young for his question about local plans. Those local planning authorises without an up-to-date local plan will be set a deadline of 23 December to adopt a new plan. At present, 90% of local planning authorities have adopted a local plan, but I should add that it is slightly more nuanced than that. If the five-year review looks at the plan and decides that it does not need to be updated, it can carry on; so, technically, it is feasible to have a plan older than five years that is still up to date. As my noble friend says, it is most important that local authorities have an active and current local plan.

My Lords, I declare my relevant interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. We often discuss housing and planning in this House but I want to take the noble Earl back to the fact that well over 250,000 planning applications have been approved by local authorities with not a brick laid. That is the problem: getting these homes built.

My Lords, the noble Lord makes a good point. Where these planning permissions are current, the building process must continue. This is why we have committed £44 billion of funding over five years to build more houses, simplify the planning system for the public and small builders, and renew the affordable homes programme to build thousands of affordable homes. This is all about trying to get more bricks put in the ground so that we can have more houses for everybody who needs them.

A distinction without a difference, my Lords. The Question from the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, is pertinent. Last year I set up a commission to look at the building of housing and communities. Simply the delivery of more houses does not create better communities. The mere existence of houses is not in itself a virtue. It comes back to fattening the pig, as the noble Baroness put it so well. What powers will the planned legislation give to local authorities to ensure that affordable housing is delivered? The experience is that, although there may be a commitment to it in the early stages of planning, as the process goes on the number of affordable houses diminishes very severely. There is a lack of imagination over the forms of ownership. If we are to have communities, we must have facilities and the capacity to build those communities together. Does the Minister agree with that, and what are the plans?

Yes, I agree with the most reverend Primate. Communities are of prime importance. There has been much movement over the last few years in various areas where there has been large-scale development. Communities have been very much at the forefront in how many of these planning development areas have been established. I know in particular about an area in north Swindon. I declare an interest: I was a landscape contractor there. I did a lot of the planting of trees and the general landscaping. There, it was very important that these developments had a community at their centre. The most reverend Primate also commented on what the noble Baroness said—I cannot remember what she said. I apologise; I will write to the most reverend Primate on that issue.

My Lords, in addition to the eight local authorities being immediately sanctioned, what will happen to the 26 local authorities that have been told they will have to produce action plans? How long will they have to do that for and what sanctions will be applied to them if they fail to comply? After all, as the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, put it, we need carrots as well as sticks.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, makes a very good point. As he said, 26 local authorities have achieved between 85% and 94% of delivery. They need to produce an action plan to remedy this. We look forward to the planning White Paper, but one should remember that we will also be reforming the fees process for planning applications. This is to ensure that local planning authorities are properly resourced.