ADEPT calls for 'freedom to build'

Dominic Browne

ADEPT’s new president has called for the complete removal of council borrowing restrictions to help authorities deliver an upsurge in affordable homes, with the Government and developers providing cash for supporting infrastructure.

Paula Hewitt led the council directors' association in making the case that local authorities 'must be able to build new homes for social rent at genuinely affordable levels to meet local needs, using their assets and income streams to finance further investment'.

In a new policy position paper, ADEPT outlined its criticism of the Government's current planning reform proposals and urged a new direction towards a greater council housing delivery. 

'We welcome the removal of the Housing Revenue Account borrowing cap in 2018 and subsequent relaxation of restrictions in how councils can use Right to Buy receipts. However, we believe that these restrictions should be lifted completely (including use of all receipts from sales and the level of discounts applied locally),' the ADEPT document states.

It also suggests 'alternative ways of funding infrastructure through capturing the uplift in land value resulting from the granting of planning permission and public investment being made on or near a piece of land' must be considered.

Ms Hewitt is the deputy chief executive, lead director for economic and community infrastructure and director of commissioning at Somerset County Council.

She said: 'The pandemic has highlighted the health implications and inequalities of housing. It is therefore vital that local planning authorities are given the scope and tools to provide a housing landscape that is affordable, healthy and sustainable going forwards.'

ADEPT also linked new housing to pressures on infrastructure including extra congestion, and added new homes must encourage walking and cycling in safety.

The association suggested that the Government target of 300,000 new homes a year was not realistic and highlighted Local Government Association research revealing that the last time the country built more than 250,000 homes a year, councils built more than 40% of them.

Today councils are only responsible for a tiny proportion of the total completed, 'mainly due to the financial restrictions in place on borrowing to invest in more council homes', ADEPT argued.

It also highlighted the pressing need for affordable housing with around 4.7 m private rented households currently paying more than a third of their income in rent and over 98,300 families living in temporary accommodation, including more than 127,000 children.

ADEPT criticised the formula (the ‘standard method’) for allocating local targets to planning authorities arguing it should be reviewed in the light of latest demographic trends and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

'The imposition of formula-driven targets can have unintended consequences and imbalances, so development must be planned strategically with reference to regional housing markets and infrastructure provision. The difficulties faced by the Government in late 2020, when consulting on proposed changes to the standard method led to an arbitrary 35% target uplift in the top 20 urban areas, show the dangers of a formula-driven approach.'

Councils are awaiting the results of government consultation on its Planning for the Future White Paper in August 2020.

The White Paper proposed creating a rules-based system with all land categorised into one of three zones – growth, renewal, and protected – would give a streamlined process where local authorities no longer determine individual planning applications.

It also suggested changes to the way monies are collected for developments, by replacing the Community Infrastructure Levy and the use of Section 106 agreements with a new Infrastructure Levy.

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