Let A Million New Homes Bloom

It is financially, legally and politically challenging to deliver new communities but without them the gap will continue to widen as between the quantity – and quality – of homes that the country needs and those that are built.

Credit should be given to the Government for continuing to push. Are its efforts too diffuse and/or insufficiently strategic, in terms of being within a clear framework, or is it simply being pragmatic in encouraging locally-supported proposals without specifying locations or indeed the process for delivery? That is for others to judge but this blog post is intended to serve as a reminder of where we stand by way of ministerial statements, and particularly focuses on where we are with the Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford arc.

NPPF

The July 2018 NPPF continues, by way of paragraph 72, to support locally-led new settlements, with a change from the March 2018 draft in the reintroduction of the reference from the 2012 NPPF to garden city principles:

The supply of large numbers of new homes can often be best achieved through planning for larger scale development, such as new settlements or significant extensions to existing villages and towns, provided they are well located and designed, and supported by the necessary infrastructure and facilities. Working with the support of their communities, and with other authorities if appropriate, strategic policy-making authorities should identify suitable locations for such development where this can help to meet identified needs in a sustainable way. In doing so, they should:

a)  consider the opportunities presented by existing or planned investment in infrastructure, the area’s economic potential and the scope for net environmental gains;

b)  ensure that their size and location will support a sustainable community, with sufficient access to services and employment opportunities within the development itself (without expecting an unrealistic level of self-containment), or in larger towns to which there is good access;

c)  set clear expectations for the quality of the development and how this can be maintained (such as by following Garden City principles), and ensure that a variety of homes to meet the needs of different groups in the community will be provided;

d)  make a realistic assessment of likely rates of delivery, given the lead-in times for large scale sites, and identify opportunities for supporting rapid implementation (such as through joint ventures or locally-led development corporations); and

e)  consider whether it is appropriate to establish Green Belt around or adjoining new developments of significant size.”

Garden Communities Prospectus

MHCLG published on 15 August 2018 its Garden Communities prospectus, inviting “bids for ambitious, locally supported, proposals for new garden communities at scale. In return for tailored assistance to help design and deliver the vision for these places, we expect local areas to deliver significant housing and economic growth. We will look to assist as many as we can, in locations where there is sufficient demand for housing.

Bids are due by 9 November 2018. The prospectus sets out the necessary criteria as follows:

Scale

The Government “will prioritise proposals for new Garden Towns (more than 10,000 homes), but will consider proposals for Garden Villages (1,500-10,000 homes) which are particularly strong in other aspects. For instance, demonstrating exceptional quality or innovations, development on predominantly brownfield sites, being in an area of particularly high housing demand, or ability to expand substantially further in the future.”

Strategic fit

All proposals must demonstrate how the new garden community fits with the housing need for the housing market area, including expected future population growth. We will prioritise proposals which respond to housing need in high demand areas. We also particularly welcome proposals which release more land through local plans to meet local housing need, and / or go above local housing need.

All proposals should demonstrate how the new garden community fits with wider strategies to support economic growth and increase productivity. We expect to see ambitious proposals which create a variety of new jobs and the timely delivery of infrastructure necessary to underpin this.”

Locally-led

Strong local leadership is crucial to developing and delivering a long-term vision for these new communities. All proposals should have the backing of the local authorities in which they are situated, including the county council in two-tier areas. We are particularly interested in proposals which demonstrate collaboration across local authority boundaries. To ensure that the potential local growth benefits have been considered, it will be desirable for proposals to have the support of the Local Enterprise Partnership, where the area has one.

Proposals should set out how the local community is being, or will be, engaged and involved at an early stage, and strategies for continued community engagement and involvement. We are clear that local communities – both current and future residents – must have a meaningful say in developing the proposal from design to delivery.”

Garden community qualities

High quality place-making is what makes garden communities exemplars of large new developments, and all proposals must set out a clear vision for the quality of the community and how this can be maintained in the long-term, for instance by following Garden City principles.”

Deliverability and viability

Proposals should address:

⁃ delivery models and timescales

⁃ infrastructure requirements

⁃ opportunities to capture land value

⁃ access to finance and private sector investment

(NB this post is not intended to be an update to my 20 May 2017 blog post Money For Nothing? CPO Compensation Reform, Land Value Capture. However, I would note first the specific advice in the new NPPF that local planning authorities’ role in identifying and helping to bring forward land for development should “include identifying opportunities to facilitate land assembly, supported where necessary by compulsory purchase powers, where this can help to bring more land forward for meeting development needs and/or secure better development outcomes” and secondly the open letter, Sharing land value with communities dated 20 August 2018 from 16 campaign groups to the Secretary of State, which included the request that Parliament “should reform the 1961 Land Compensation Act to clarify that local authorities should be able to compulsorily purchase land at fair market value that does not include prospective planning permission, rather than speculative “hope” value.” It is interesting to see the broadness of consensus between a variety of organisations but these issues are not at all straight-forward! More in due course.)

Delivery timescales and accelerated delivery

We will prioritise proposals that offer a strong prospect of early delivery and a significant acceleration of housing delivery. They should consider the scope for innovative ways to deliver new homes, such as off-site construction, custom build and self-build, as well as providing opportunities for a diverse range of house builders. Priority will be given to proposals that can demonstrate how build out will be achieved at pace, whilst maintaining quality.”

In terms of delivery vehicles, the prospectus says this:

Whilst we are not prescribing any particular model, for proposals at scale, a Development Corporation may be an appropriate vehicle to consider. We have taken action to enable the creation of new locally accountable New Town Development Corporations. These vehicles can help provide long-term certainty to private investors, resolve complex co-ordination challenges, invest directly in infrastructure that unlocks development, and use compulsory purchase powers to help lay out a new town.

(The reference to “new locally accountable New Town Development Corporations” is a reference to the new mechanism available for designating new towns by way of the New Towns Act 1981 (Local Authority Oversight) Regulations 2018 which were made and came into force on 23 July 2018. Guidance as to their operation was published in June 2018.)

Who can apply?

The support of the relevant local planning authority or authorities is a prerequisite:

Proposals are invited from local authorities and private sector partners (such as master developers or land owners). Proposals submitted by private sector partners must be expressly supported by the local authority.

We particularly welcome joint proposals from one or more local authorities, as well as proposals which demonstrate support from developers and / or landowners.”

Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford corridor

There is specific paragraph in relation to the CaMKOx corridor (or whatever we are meant to call it):

For proposals within the Cambridge – Milton Keynes – Oxford corridor, Government will continue to work with local partners to consider how the delivery of new homes and settlements can best support the overarching vision for the axis. This includes the contribution these places can make to the National Infrastructure Commission’s finding that up to 1 million homes will need to be built in the corridor by 2050, if the area is to maximise its economic potential.”

CaMKOx

There are a number of related Government-sponsored initiatives in relation to the Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford corridor.

The Government published in November 2017 its vision for the corridor, Helping the Cambridge, Milton Keynes and Oxford corridor reach its potential, alongside the Autumn budget and the National Infrastructure Commission’s report Partnering for Prosperity: A new deal for the Cambridge- Milton Keynes-Oxford Arc. The NIC report sets out its conclusion that:

The Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford arc must be a national priority. Its world-class research, innovation and technology can help the UK prosper in a changing global economy. But success cannot be taken for granted. Without urgent action, a chronic undersupply of homes could jeopardise growth, limit access to labour and put prosperity at risk.

The Commission’s central finding is that rates of house building will need to double if the arc is to achieve its economic potential. This requires a new deal between central and local government – one which aligns public and private interests behind the delivery of significant east-west infrastructure and major new settlements, and which seeks commitment to faster growth through a joined-up plan for jobs, homes and infrastructure. Any deal must give local areas the certainty, freedoms and resources they need to create well-designed, well-connected new communities.”

Two significant transport infrastructure projects were seen by the NIC as critical to unlocking development: the East West Rail scheme connecting Oxford and Cambridge by rail and the Oxford-Cambridge Expressway road proposal. But the report also makes important recommendations as to necessary governance, seeking

• “New powers giving councils greater certainty over future investments, and allowing them to fund and raise finance for major infrastructure improvements that deliver new homes

• A jointly agreed plan for new and expanded housing settlements, supported by New Town Development Corporations and new infrastructure design panels

• New statutory spatial plans and investment strategies for each sub-region should be developed, as part of a 50-year vision for the arc as a whole

The Government’s vision states:

1.7 The government welcomes the NIC’s finding that up to 1 million homes will need to be built in the corridor by 2050, if the area is to maximise its economic potential.

1.8 The government has agreed a housing deal with Oxfordshire, committing to a target of 100,000 homes in the county by 2031 in return for a package of support for infrastructure and economic growth, which could include supporting the growth of employment sites across the county such as Science Vale, one of the most successful science and technology clusters in the UK. This rate of housing delivery would be consistent with a corridor-wide ambition for 1 million new homes by 2050.

1.9 The government pledges to build on the Oxfordshire deal by working with the central and eastern parts of the corridor in 2018, to realise its housing ambitions.

1.10 As the NIC has recommended, the government will also consider opportunities for one or more major new settlements in the corridor. It will do so by bringing together public and private capital to build new locally-proposed garden towns, using appropriate delivery vehicles such as development corporations. The government will work closely with the Homes and Communities Agency and local partners to explore such opportunities further.”

In terms of governance:

1.15 The government invites local partners to work with it through 2018 to agree a long term vision for the whole corridor up to 2050. This will set out how jobs, homes and infrastructure across the corridor will be planned together to benefit existing and new residents, while balancing economic growth with the protection and enhancement of the area’s historic and environmental assets.

1.16 The government believes this long-term vision should be underpinned by a series of joint statutory plans across the corridor which would deliver the vision through the planning system. As a first step, Oxfordshire has agreed, through its housing deal with government, to bring forward for adoption a joint statutory plan across the whole county. The government urges other areas in the corridor to propose how they will work together with a view to adopting a small number of joint statutory plans at the earliest opportunity to ensure that planning for business and housing is coordinated with the delivery of strategic and local infrastructure.”

In terms of capturing increases in land value:

1.18 The government will be consulting on changes to the mechanisms currently available to local authorities (the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) and Section 106 agreements) to make them easier to use and more flexible. This will enable local authorities to capture land value uplift taking place in the corridor more effectively. For example, the government will consult on changes to CIL that would make it easier for authorities to capture land value increases around new railway stations.

1.19 As a starting point, the government expects authorities and delivery bodies in the Cambridge – Milton Keynes – Oxford corridor to use existing mechanisms of land value capture, and the potential new mechanisms announced at Autumn Budget 2017 (subject to consultation) to capture rising land values from the additional public investment in a fair way, having regard to the announcements made at Budget 2017.

1.20 The government will also encourage authorities to explore the introduction of a Strategic Infrastructure Tariff, in addition to CIL, supported by appropriate governance arrangements. These approaches will require developers to baseline their contribution towards infrastructure into the values they pay for land.”

East West Rail

Network Rail made an application to the Secretary of State for Transport for a Transport and Works Act Order in relation to phase 2 of its East West Rail scheme on 27 July 2018, which is the central section of the line, including track and signalling upgrades between Bicester, Bedford, Aylesbury and Milton Keynes, including the reinstatement of a ‘mothballed’ section of railway between Bletchley and Claydon Junction. The deadline for representations is 7 September 2018. Phase 1, the western section between Oxford and Bicester, is already complete.

Oxford-Cambridge Expressway

Highways England is expected to announce its preferred route for the Oxford-Cambridge Expressway this Autumn. The three potential corridors are:

– Option A – southern, via Aylesbury, linking to the M1 south of Milton Keynes

– Option B – central, following the east-west rail corridor

– Option C – northern, roughly following the existing A421 to the south of Bicester and via Buckingham to the east of Milton Keynes

The local authorities and communities affected of course all have differing views as to the route that should be selected. A critical (you might guess from its title) piece about the project by George Monbiot, This disastrous new project will change the face of Britain, yet no debate is allowed was published by the Guardian on 22 August 2018. The scheme will be promoted in due course as a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project. Given that the selected route will not be the subject of a Planning Act 2008 national policy statement it is inaccurate to suggest that “no debate is allowed“, although of course, as with other elements of the planning for CaMKOx, it has been iterative, without any form of Government framework that might be argued to require strategic environmental assessment.

Given the 9 November 2018 deadline for bids in the Garden Communities Prospectus, it is curious to note that Planning minister Kit Malthouse wrote to local authorities across the Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford corridor on 26 July 2018, inviting them “to bring forward ambitious proposals for transformational housing growth, including new settlements” with a much earlier deadline of 14 September 2018:

The National Infrastructure Commission has stated that realising its full potential as a world class economic hub would require delivery of up to 1 million new homes here by 2050. The Government welcomes this ambition. Last year, we set out a significant programme of investment in infrastructure, housing and business to support it.

Realising the ambition of 1 million homes here will require additional action from central and local partners. This action includes Government’s planning reforms, our national programmes such as the Housing Infrastructure Fund, the forthcoming national prospectus inviting proposals for locally-led new garden communities, and further work to understand the potential for housing growth across the corridor.

Government will also soon begin detailed analysis to explore potential locations for new settlements across the corridor, their alignment with transport infrastructure, and any environmental considerations.”

The precise choreography as between these calls for proposals, a decision as to the final route the Oxford-Cambridge Expressway (which in itself will be relevant to the identification of potential sites) and what local planning authorities should be doing in the meantime in relation to their emerging and submitted plans is also causing some concern within affected local authorities, if the letter dated 14 August 2018 from the leader of Vale of White Horse District Council, in response to the Malthouse letter, is anything to go by. And is the one million homes in addition to authorities’ current growth proposals?

In promoting what will be significant change for many in the Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford arc and what will be of vital importance to the country as a whole (in terms of the potential that is there to be unlocked in terms of homes and economic growth) the Government is treading a fine line. Its strategy appears to be not to go down the route of one set-piece consultation document (along the lines of the much maligned HS2 white paper) but rather to promote (without the commitments to a fast-track through the planning system that were so controversial in relation to the ecotowns programme) a range of interventions, some ostensibly voluntary (hold up your hands if your authority wants growth – against the backdrop of likely combined authorities and joint plans), some inevitably less so.

Will local planning authorities and communities rise to the challenge? The notion of new community NSIPs appears to remain off the table, probably for good reason given the practical good sense in successful proposals being locally driven. But what if that one million homes figure is simply unachievable on a locally led basis?

Simon Ricketts, 24 August 2018

Personal views, et cetera

Author: simonicity

Partner at boutique planning firm, Town Legal LLP, but this blog represents my personal views only.

2 thoughts on “Let A Million New Homes Bloom”

  1. Hi Simon, interesting article. I find the whole CaMKOx corridor process a bit of a dog’s breakfast, with no-one in charge and the road, rail and housing being developed separately. Everyone involved has a different agenda, which means progress will be very slow if achieved at all, although the NIC still believes bottom-up is the way to go. The other day, two local authorities complained that housing was being imposed on them and the routes of the rail and road should be announced first, but that’s the wrong – infrastructure is there to serve communities, not the other way round. The government should co-ordinate the location of new settlements with the road and rail links whose purpose is to serve them. There is still a belief that the road and rail links are there to reduce journey times between Oxford and Cambridge, but that shouldn’t be their main purpose. Perhaps Iain Stewart is the one to

    Liked by 1 person

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