Report published by the National Audit Office identifies substantial issues in the MHCLG’s role in supporting the planning system

A report published in February 2019 by the National Audit Office assessed the effectiveness of the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG) in supporting the planning regime to provide the right homes in the right places. The report, published as part of a series on housing in England, identified a range of issues within the current planning system and concludes that the planning system is incapable of providing value for money, in terms of effectively delivering new homes.

Between 2005/06 and 2017/18 the average number of homes built each year was 177,000, outlining the difficulty in meeting the Department’s ambition to deliver 300,000 homes per year from the mid-2020’s. Whilst housing delivery has increased year on year since 2012/13, with 222,000 houses built in 2017/18, a substantial increase in delivery rates are required to meet the Department’s ambition.

As of December 2018, only 44% of local authorities had up-to-date Local Plans, however, as of November 2018 only 15 local authorities had been challenged by the Secretary of State. Where a Plan is out of date, the presumption in favour of sustainable development is applied in accordance with paragraph 11 of the NPPF, reducing the control local authorities have over a planning decision. In addition, starting in 2019, local authorities will be able to be held accountable for failing to meet their housing requirements through the Housing Delivery Test. It is estimated by mid-2020 that 50% of local authorities will fail this test and may incur penalties affording greater weight to applicants/developers.

The existing mechanisms for delivering infrastructure are not working effectively. As of January 2019, the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) had only been implemented in 47% of local authorities, a substantial reduction from the 92% of authorities the Department considered would adopt CIL in 2011. The Department is looking into ways of reforming these mechanisms, however these are unlikely to take effect for several years.

Each issue identified above is a sizable obstacle in its own right that requires considerable attention to address. When these issues are considered collectively, they point towards a fundamentally flawed planning system.

A rapid and substantial increase in housing delivery is required in order to meet the Department’s ambition to deliver 300,000 homes. Local Plans are arguably the best tool for the job, but with an alarming number of local authorities without an up-to-date plan, there is an absence of the strategic overview required to ensure housing delivery can be substantially increased. This issue is exacerbated by the decrease in spending on planning by local authorities (a decrease of 14.6% in real terms, from £1.25 billion in 2010/11 to £961 million in 2017/18) and the increased powers afforded to applicants/developers where local plans are out of date or in the near future, where an authority fails the Housing Delivery Test.

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