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A long-term plan for housing? DLUHC, housing and a sense of Déjà vu

Earlier today, the Government unveiled it's 'long-term plan for housing' with major announcements from both DLUHC and Number 10

This post serves two purposes: 

  1. to summarise the content of the 'long-term plan'; and
  2. to provide some initial analysis as to its content and how it fits into the wider 'planning reform' agenda.

Before we get into the detail, however, it is worth spending a few moments talking about the timing of this set of announcements. 

The plan is being unveiled at the very end of the parliamentary term - just two working days after Gove issued his controversial decision to refuse the M&S Appeal against his inspector's recommendations and only one working day after we found out those by-election results. 

Given that parliament is about to break for the summer recess, there is simply no time left for parliament to action anything new before the start of the autumn session.  

When looking at the 'long-term plan' it is also worth bearing in mind that the "Levelling-up & Regeneration Bill",  which sets the legal framework for a number of these proposals, is currently stuck in the House of Lords and is likely to remain there for some time.... 

So .... what exactly is in the plan?

The content of the plan is probably best considered against the following headings:


A surprisingly large proportion of the 'long-term plan for housing' appears to be focused on a single location: Cambridge.

It looks as if the papers stole a march on us with this one, as the reports of a few weeks ago look to have been proven true. Cambridge has been chosen as a location for significant investment and expansion. 

The Government's plans for the City include:

  •  A new "quarter"* in the city made up of  "well-designed, sustainable and beautiful neighbourhoods" with space for "cutting-edge laboratories" and " commercial developments" and all "encircled by country parkland and woodland accessible to all who live in Cambridge".
  • A consultation on how best to set an appropriate landowner premium for those landowners' whose land may be compulsory purchased to support the proposals.
  • The creation of a 'Delivery Group' which has been tasked with solving a number of very tricky logistical problems which currently stand in the way of actually delivering these proposals: not least the current lack of water in the region.
  • The provision of  £500,000 of funding to assist with planning capacity in Cambridgeshire; and 
  • A plan to  accelerate the relocation of water treatment works in Northeast Cambridge (subject to planning permission).


Cambridge is not the only part of the country which appears to be in line for special treatment. The plan also includes:

  • A ‘Docklands 2.0’ vision for up to 65,000 homes across  East London. 
  • Up to £1 billion of funding from the Affordable Homes Programme to be directed towards regeneration in London. Along with a £1 million being made available to push forward work with the Mayor to consider how to drive housing delivery in London, including possibly releasing industrial land for housing.
  • Reiterating existing commitments to regeneration projects in Leeds, Barrow-in-Furness and Sheffield.
  • A promise to invest £800 million from the £1.5 billion Brownfield, Infrastructure and Land fund to unlock up to 56,000 new homes across England. Along with recommitting to other funding pledges, which for the most part had already been announced.


The plan does contain some welcome news on resourcing for Local Planning Authorities. In particular: 

  • The launch of a new £24 million Planning Skills Delivery Fund which is intended to "clear planning backlogs" and "get skills in the right place" - albeit with a notable lack of detail as to *how* the fund will manage this. From the follow-up announcement (which can be found here) it looks as if councils can bid for up to £100,000 of cash to help clear backlogs - presumably by hiring locums, agency staff or additional planning officers. 
  • Establishing a new “super-squad” of leading planners and other experts to unblock major housing developments, underpinned by £13.5 million in funding. Although, this crack team of experts will initially be focussed on Cambridge - presumably as part of the "Delivery Group" discussed earlier; and
  • Increasing the amount developers pay in planning fees. This is one promise which has arguably already been delivered, as the new Fees Order was laid before parliament last week - notably before the Government's response to the fees consultation has been released. The new order introduces the promised fee increases, index-links planning fees for the first time and removes the "free go" for withdrawn or refused applications. We will have to await the consultation response to find out what is happening in respect of ring-fencing planning fees income, and the various other consultation proposals.

Permitted Development 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given this Government's history, the 'long-term plan for housing' carves out an important role for permitted development rights.

The plan announces:

  • A further consultation on new permitted development rights supposedly to  "provide more certainty over some types of development, and how design codes might apply to certain rights to protect local character and give developers greater confidence". 
  • New and amended permitted development rights to make it easier to "convert larger department stores, space above shops and office space". 
  • Changes to permitted development rights to support farm diversification and development, to allow businesses to extend and more outdoor markets to be held; 
  • A pledge to consult on further measures in the Autumn on how to better support existing homeowners to extend their homes; and  
  • a commitment to  ensuring that  Article 4 Directions removing PD Rights will only be agreed where there is evidence of wholly unacceptable impacts.

This is an interesting set of announcements given the complicated politics of PD rights - which have tended to be both controversial at a national level and extremely unpopular locally. 

The announcement of changes to make it easier to "convert larger department stores" are seem particularly noteworthy, given that they follow hot on the heels of of last week's decision by the Secretary of State to refuse M&S's application to demolish and rebuild their flag-ship Oxford Street store - on a combination of heritage grounds and apparent uncertainty over the viability of the proposals for retro-fit. Converting larger department stores would require revising the 1,500 sqm size limit on floorspace that can currently be converted to residential under the existing pd right for Class E uses. 

It should also be noted, however, that changes to PD Rights are one of the few housing related levers that the Government can pull without having to introduce new primary legislation, or further amend the Levelling-Up & Regeneration Bill. 

They can be introduced fairly easily by way of a new statutory instrument, with comparatively little need for parliamentary time. As such, they are one of the easier parts of this plan for the government to actually deliver.

I would, however, consider it a personal favour if DLUHC would consider publishing some responses to the last three consultations on changes to PD rights before it embarked on an entirely new round of them.

Beauty, Building Safety & Local Plans 

In a pick 'n mix of other announcements, the plan also proposes:

  • Establishing the Office for Place in Stoke-on-Trent. This is not a new announcement,  the proposal for an Office for Place has been around for a while. We do, however, now have confirmation that Nicholas Boys Smith has been appointed as the interim chair.
  • Launching a  new consultation to seek views on the government's proposals to simplify the system of developing a new plan. This will technically be a second consultation on the issue. The 30 month local plan was a key tenant of the 2020 Planning for the Future White Paper, and is one of the proposals that was eventually incorporated into the Levelling-Up & Regeneration Bill. Whilst nothing can happen to implement the plans until the Bill gains Royal Assent, it will be good to get a clearer idea of how the Government envisages that this stream-lined process will work - particularly given the likely complications posed by the need to integrate the Infrastructure Levy and Infrastructure Delivery Strategies into the process at some point;
  • Confirmation that the government will in fact mandate second staircases in new residential buildings above 18m. Albeit a) not until the Autumn, and b) with supporting transitional arrangements to secure the viability of projects which are already underway and avoid delays where there are other more appropriate mitigations; and 
  • Opening the Cladding Safety Scheme to all eligible buildings, ensuring that no leaseholder will be out of pocket to fix dangerous cladding in medium or high-rise buildings. There is no indication as to how this expansion of the scheme is to be funded. 

Statements of Intent

The final group of announcements in the plan are those that are probably best described as 'statements of intent'. 

These are statements that have no new policy backing or funding associated with them, but instead seem to set out how DLUHC thinks local councils should be behaving - despite all policy signals that may have previously been sent to the contrary. 

I am just going to quote this part of the plan in full:

"The government wants to make it easier to progress such developments, and to that end is clear that:

  • Development should proceed on sites that are adopted in a local plan with full input from the local community, unless there are strong reasons why it cannot.
  • Local councils should be open and pragmatic in agreeing changes to developments where conditions mean that the original plan may no longer be viable, rather than losing the development wholesale or seeing development mothballed.
  • Better use should be made of small pockets of brownfield land by being more permissive, so more homes can be built more quickly, where and how it makes sense, giving more confidence and certainty to SME builders."

I will leave that there for you all to reflect upon. Perhaps, the hope is that those few paragraphs will be enough.  

What is not in the plan?

In one word. Nitrates. Despite all of the rumours and press reports in recent weeks, today's announcement contained not one word about measures to help developers or local authorities impacted by Natural England's guidance on nitrate neutrality.

Water did get quite a lot of attention, but only in the context of the government's plans for Cambridge. There was no further help or guidance given to those authorities affected by Water Neutrality or wider water shortages outside of Cambridgeshire. 

Whilst this is likely to be a real disappointment to the house-building sector, and affected local authorities, it is not a real surprise. Finding a lasting solution to nitrate neutrality issues is complicated and fraught with political risk for the government. Announcing the plans at the start of a six-week break from parliament may well have simply been considered too dangerous - particularly given how many headlines river and water pollution (and indeed sewage) have been generating of late. 

So, what does it all mean?

All in all, not that much. The "long-term plan for housing" doesn't actually contain much in the way of new spending or new ideas. Instead, we have a combination of:

  • statements of intent which do not seem to have much behind them;
  • policy ideas that have already been floated in the press (and met with a not entirely positive response); 
  • reforms that were already underway; 
  • projects that are wholly dependent on the Levelling-Up & Regeneration Bill making its way through parliament; 
  • yet more permitted development rights; and 
  • promises of consultations on things that *may* have already been consulted upon, but without any promise of a response to the earlier consultations....

Perhaps less of a 'long-term plan for housing' than a compilation album of this government's greatest hits - particularly when it comes to its planning reform agenda. 

If you were cynical, you might think this whole plan was more about drawing a clear blue line between the Conservatives' offering on housing (Brownfield First, Urban Regeneration, Green Belt is Sacrosanct) and the emerging Labour offer (which may include *shock horror* some areas of Green Belt review or release), than it is about actually solving the housing crisis or, indeed, placing the planning system on a more sustainable long-term footing. 

Anyone else have an overwhelming sense of Déjà vu right now?

or possibly two - it is hard to tell from the announcement if they envisaging one quarter combining all of these elements, or a residential and a science based one.

Today (24 July 2023), as part of a long-term plan for housing, the Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities have committed to a new era of regeneration, inner-city densification and housing delivery across England, with transformational plans to supply beautiful, safe, decent homes in places with high-growth potential in partnership with local communities.
Additional reforms to the planning system will speed up new developments, put power in the hands of local communities to build their own homes, and unlock planning decisions – with a new fund of £24 million to scale up local planning capacity, and an additional £13.5 million to stand up a new “super-squad” of experts to support large scale development projects.”