‘Project Speed’ could lead to poorer quality housing, housing sector warns

Government proposals to relax planning laws as part of ‘Project Speed’ could lead to poorer quality and fewer affordable homes, organisations across the housing sector have warned.

Earlier this week in a speech with the slogan ‘Build, build, build’, the Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced major government plans to boost the UK’s social and economic recovery following the COVID-19 outbreak.

Housing announcements made in Johnson’s speech included were a reaffirmation of the £12.2 billion Affordable Homes Programme, first mentioned in the March Budget and set to be spent over the next five years.

Johnson also stressed the government’s commitment to oversee ‘the most radical reforms of our planning system since the end of the Second World War’, and plans to extend permitted development rights, which allow commercial and office buildings to be converted into housing without needing planning permission.

While welcoming the government’s focus on housing, sector experts responded by warning that relaxing planning laws is insufficient to build the number of new homes the UK needs and could lead to wider social issues.

Jonathan Webb, research fellow for the think tank IPPR, commented: “Loosening planning restrictions so that more commercial properties can be converted to residential homes puts the future delivery of affordable homes at risk and will accelerate the hollowing out of communities and the decline of the high street. A proper blueprint for town centres is needed.”

Meanwhile, planners based in the North of England called for the government to offer a more ambitious deal for the UK’s regions.

James Hall, partner at Yorkshire-based planning and design agency Barton Willmore, said: “The renewed focus on permitted development rights to turn commercial buildings in town centres into housing is only tinkering around the edges.

“To deliver meaningful economic growth the Government must look at measures to enable much bigger volumes of good quality housing.”

The National Housing Federation praised the government’s focus on building homes to repair the UK’s economy but said that it should not pass up the opportunity to focus on investing in new and existing social homes.

Kate Henderson, chief executive of the National Housing Federation, said: “The government has an opportunity to put social rent homes – homes for people on the lowest incomes – at the heart of social and economic recovery through the Affordable Homes Programme. These homes are needed now more than ever and should make up the lion share of the AHP.”

The social housing provider Stonewater, which manages around 32,500 social homes in England, welcomed the government’s planned ‘radical’ reform of the planning system, which it is set to outline further in a planning policy paper later this month.

Stonewater’s chief executive, Nicholas Harris, called for the paper to include a new zonal planning system to allow more land to be allocated for housing in high-demand areas, saying it ‘could lead to hundreds of thousands more homes and be truly transformational’.

The Local Government Association’s chairman James Jamieson stressed that planning powers should remain at a local level ‘to enable councils to deliver resilient, prosperous places that meet the needs of their communities’.

Earlier this week, housing bodies and charities warned that relaxing planning regulations could exacerbate the UK’s lack of accessible housing.

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