On why the second draft of PPG3 is even scarier than the first …

The government may have hoped for an easy ride on its latest revision to PPG3 (Housing) - Delivering Mixed Communities. You may recall the furore surrounding last year’s “leaked” draft, which proposed taking away the power to determine the mix of a scheme’s housing from developers and handing it to local authorities. However the new authorised draft is causing just as much angst in even more quarters than the earlier one.

Social housing lobbyists are concerned that the amount of housing supplied will be reduced. This is because the so-called “cascade mechanism” allows the amount of subsidised housing that local authorities can demand to be reduced.

The House Builders Federation has instructed its members to welcome the proposals, but it is clear to housebuilders who have read the draft that the underlying intention remains to encourage local authorities to specify, in unacceptable detail, the house types and mix they must build – and probably the prices too.

So when the deadline for consultation approaches after Easter and responses start to flow back to the ODPM, they may have an even bigger headache than before.

However, without discussing these issues now – they will be considered in detail in a Building-sponsored seminar on 16 March – there is another overriding objection to the draft, which suggests that it should not have been issued at all, and certainly not at this stage.

Essentially, local authority implementation of new PPG3 is supposed to follow the adoption of local plan policies, in which the appropriate mix and type of housing has been specified.

This suggests PPG3 should not have been issued at all – certainly not at this stage

Before preparing these policies, authorities are required to undertake local housing assessments, to identify housing needs and demands within their area, and to consult fully with private sector developers in the process. This is a new concept, and local authorities will need extensive guidance on how to carry it out and then to interpret the results. What finally goes into that guidance will largely determine how, and which, policies emerge in local plans.

Unfortunately, the guidance has been long in gestation and it is currently nowhere to be seen. Rumour has it that it is proving difficult to draft. So whatever any of us may think we think, it is quite impossible to comment sensibly on the consultation draft of PPG3 without also seeing that guidance. Indeed, so integral to the policy is it, that it should be published for consultation, in its own right, before PPG3 can be issued.

The ODPM cannot possibly conduct a proper consultation without it and, in particular, it cannot meet its obligations to undertake a regulatory impact assessment of new policy until the workload and cost implications of local housing assessments can be evaluated for local authorities and developers. To proceed without this almost certainly risks legal challenge.

With the general election almost upon us, and the ODPM likely to be broken up thereafter, the sensible course would be to run up the white flag now, withdraw the current draft and then consult properly when the full PPG3 package can be viewed as a whole – and properly informed decisions can be taken on it by John Prescott’s successor.

Roger Humber is a housing specialist