In another desperate attempt to find a popular policy, Theresa May announced on Monday that the government would crack down on developers that don’t use their land.
May said developers must “step up and do their bit”.
But behind the headline-grabbing bluster the reality looks a lot less rosy.
There is a crisis of council house building and genuinely affordable housing, and the Tories are steadily making it worse.
Communities minister Sajid Javid has launched a review of the National Planning Policy Framework on Monday.
Proposals include a new inspectorate with the power to take planning decisions off councils deemed to not be building enough homes.
Council house building is already at an all-time low. The move will force councils to go into partnership with private developers and housing associations to build housing.
Property developers are meant to include a certain amount of “affordable” homes in plans for new developments—officially usually around 30 percent. “Affordable” includes the Tories’ unaffordable starter homes (up to £450,000 in London, £250,000 elsewhere) and rents of 80 percent of market rent.
“Viability assessments” mean developers can claim that, if their profits fall below an agreed amount—typically 20 percent—they can reduce the number of “affordable” homes.
A Guardian investigation this week found that in Manchester, none of the 14,667 homes in big developments granted planning permission in the last two years are set to be “affordable”.
In Sheffield just 97 homes out of 6,943 approved by planners in 2016 and 2017 met the government’s definition.
Javid said on Monday, “There are too many developers who try to wriggle out [of building affordable homes] by saying they’re not going to make enough profit and all sorts of things. So-called ‘viability assessments’ haven’t been transparent enough and they need to change.”
Fine words. A pity his department has suggested changes to the National Planning Policy Framework will do nothing to change this.
One section of the Draft planning practice guidance for viability reads, “Viability assessment should not compromise the quality of development but should ensure that policies are realistic and the total cumulative cost of all relevant policies is not of a scale that that will make development unviable.”
In other words—business as usual.
The Draft Revised National Planning Policy Framework does not contain one mention of council housing in 70 pages.
That doesn’t bode well for the millions of people in Britain who desperately need really affordable housing.