Cameron tells Tory conference 200,000 more homes are needed

The prospect of a delay to the government’s planning reforms cast a shadow over announcements at the Conservative Party Conference of a 200,000-home boost to housebuilders.

Prime minister David Cameron placed housing at the forefront of the agenda at the conference in Manchester, saying the homes would be built in the next four years. Cameron promised he would inspire “a new Tory housing revolution”.

In a series of major announcements affecting housebuilders and the broader industry, the party pledged:

  • To release enough public land to build 100,000 homes by 2015, with developers able to “build now, pay later” for sites. The communities department has already identified 50,000 of the sites, and other departments and public bodies such as the Post Office have been told to come forward with more
  • To reinstate the right-to-buy initiative, using receipts from the sale of council housing to fund the development of a further 100,000 homes
  • To examine a programme of “credit easing” where the government would buy corporate bonds in a bid to extend the flow of credit to SMEs.

However, on the controversial National Planning Policy Framework, housing minister Grant Shapps and localism minister Greg Clark confirmed that the government was working on “transition arrangements” that would give councils a grace period to prepare local development plans. This would allow them extra time before the controversial “presumption in favour of sustainable development” - which will apply where a local plan does not exist or is out of date - could come into force.

Around 70% of councils do not have local plans, which has led to fears among anti-reform lobbyists that the presumption in favour could lead to an upsurge in development. But Shapps said: “We will ensure that there is a period of time, a transition, for local authorities to have plans filed and agreed.” Speaking separately, Clark said: “It is clear transition arrangements will be very important. We will have more to say in due course.”

The length of transition period under discussion, and the circumstances under which it will apply, have not yet been made clear. An aide to Shapps said only that the arrangements were “a work in progress.”

The move has caused concern among housebuilders worried that any significant delay could store up more problems in the planning system.

Mark Clare, chief executive of Barratt, said: “I am pleased the government has taken the line it has on planning, but if we want to fix things for 2015 we have to start today.”

A joint submission in response to the consultation on the NPPF from groups including the National Housing Federation and Chartered Institute of Housing, a draft of which has been seen by Building, recommends inserting a section in the policy to deal with emerging local plans, saying the presumption in favour would not come into effect when an authority has “genuinely started to plan sustainably to accommodate growth.” The submission says that an alternative could be to allow a “limited period for initial progress to be made on local plans during which the presumption in favour does not operate automatically.”

Clare added he believed the “immediate issue” facing the housing sector was the availability of mortgage finance.