And just like that, the much-awaited Autumn Statement has been delivered. Whilst National Insurance cuts, increases in benefits and a commitment to the triple lock may dominate the headlines; there was a glimmer of hope as the Chancellor committed to a reform in the outdated planning system that we all, for better or worse, are far too familiar with. The question on everyone’s mind, however, is how will this be achieved? And what else is being proposed to tackle the all too real housing crisis?
Let’s take a deeper dive into the Statement itself, and see what we can find…
The Chancellor has, amongst the whoops and cheers of his other promises, committed to a reform of England’s outdated planning system. However, a key driver behind this is to ensure investment in the infrastructure and commercial development needed to boost the UK’s economic growth and productivity – whilst a welcome reason, not quite the one we were all hoping for.
It is not all grey skies and dark clouds though as alongside this commitment to deliver infrastructure quicker, the government has promised to “strengthen the capacity of the planning system to deliver a better service for business…” which will include introducing new premium planning services with accelerated decision dates for ‘major applications’ (which include, but are not limited to, residential development of between 10 or more dwellings) and fee refunds wherever these are not met; as the Chancellor so aptly put in his speech: A prompt service, or your money back.
There are several questions to be asked, however, with perhaps the main one being “how?” – how does the government propose on dealing with the capacity (rather lack thereof) currently faced at Local Authorities and the backlog experienced at the current moment in time? Where will all of the new planners to deal with this expediated service come from?
Furthermore, the Competition and Markets Authority has already raised concern over a monopoly of the sector by the UK’s largest housebuilders – will this premium service open it up to smaller developers and the like, or simply widen the divide to those with the funds to benefit?
Investment into Housing Supply
Perhaps a chance missed by our Chancellor to shout about the investment into housing supply that has been set out in the Autumn Statement, with the first paragraph delivering a strong (but maybe all too familiar) message:
“Building homes in the right places, where people want to live and work, will support economic growth across the UK and make home ownership a reality for more people.”
Following this, £32m to be invested across housing and planning to unlock thousands of homes across the country, including additional funding to tackle planning backlogs (ah, there we are) alongside a new Permitted Development Right to enable one house to be converted into two homes. Funding for high quality housing in Cambridge, Leeds and London has been also been promised; along with a commitment to deliver East West Rail (let us hope the curse of HS2 doesn’t strike this rail line…) and a West Yorkshire mass transit system. Building (excuse the pun) on this, £110m will be made available through the Local Nutrient Mitigation Fund to support Local Authorities and unlock up to an estimated 40,000 homes over the next five years which, whilst does go some way to helping hit that 300,000 homes a year target, isn’t quite the news we were all hoping might materialise.
In a silver cloud-esque moment, the government have confirmed their commitment to affordable housing and building on the success of the Affordable Housing Guarantee Scheme with a £3 billion extension to help deliver 20,000 new homes, and improving the quality of thousands more. The Public Works Loan Board policy margin is also being extended until June 2025, supporting Local Authority investment into social housing as well as injecting £450m into a third round of the Local Authority Housing Fund, which will deliver an additional 2,400 homes.
Local Housing Allowance
Another key takeaway from the Chancellor’s speech, and one in response to the energy crisis, is to provide “one of the largest support packages in Europe” by raising Local Housing Allowance rates to the 30th percentile of local market rents in April 2024. This has been frozen since 2020 and is based on rents from three years ago and, since that time, rents have soared and the question has to be asked on whether, in spite of the lift on the freeze being undoubtedly welcomed by many, for those living in high rental areas has it gone far enough? Only time will tell, but it is an important first step in helping those in the rental sector.