It’s safe to say the British Property Federation (BPF) know how to put on a good networking event. They offer a mixture of worthwhile insights from industry experts and diverse delegates lists that foster interesting discussions. Not to mention the BPF’s uncanny ability to draw people in with a pun or two.

Their latest event was entitled Gimme, Gimme, Gimme A Plan After Midnight which prompted a series of ABBA-inspired puns to appear throughout the event. Having turned up 30 minutes late after mistakenly heading to the wrong venue, keynote speaker Gavin Barwell MP quipped that he considered sending out an S.O.S of his own.

Despite the wordplay – which we always applaud – Mr Barwell’s opening comments were not the most significant of the afternoon.

Mr Barwell, the Government’s minister for Housing, Planning, and London, was there to promote and decipher the Housing White Paper which was (belatedly) published on 7th February 2017. Much of what Mr Barwell said in his opening remarks was known to the audience and to those of us that reviewed and analysed the Housing White Paper, including its uncanny resemblance to a Green Paper. But it was in his response to questions posed by members of the audience that we perhaps got the greatest insight into DCLG’s forward trajectory.

The Government identified within the White Paper three main obstacles to the delivery of housing in the UK. These are:

  • A lack of respective planning from local authorities, including demonstrating housing supply
  • The slow pace of housebuilding
  • A construction industry that is too reliant on a small number of big players

At Snapdragon Consulting we have been delivering CPD sessions on the Housing White Paper for the best part of two months since its publication. An overwhelming number of industry professionals that we have interacted with believe the main obstacle is the planning system, by way of the timescales and complexities of it. Many have called for one or two ‘big ideas’ to address this hurdle.

Unfortunately, Mr Barwell did not have good news for those that follow this creed. He was quick to highlight that there is no one solution to the problem, and as such his plan is based on a raft of smaller incentives and policies that look to tackle the hurdles outlined above. In this sense, we were offered nothing new.

However, prompted by questions from the floor, Mr Barwell seemed to give us a more definitive glimpse of what is to come.

He strongly believes that developers will be given the tools to speed up delivery, including implementing policies around pre-commencement conditions, ensuring that utilities companies are more efficient, reforming developer contributions, and taking steps to grow the construction workforce.

There was as ever a caveat to this helpfulness. Developers will be held to account for slow or limited delivery. The emphasis on this hints that some combination of the following incentives are being strongly considered:

  • Reducing the time allowed for implementing a planning permission from 3 to 2 years
  • Implementing potential CPO powers for LPAs on land banked sites
  • Allowing an applicant’s delivery record to become a material planning consideration

From the tone of his comments and the words he would have carefully chosen to use, it looks as though the latter of the three incentives has so far proved so controversial that its implementation is increasingly unlikely. It should however be noted that the Minister seems keen to introduce a policy that allows LPAs and their respective planning committees to take the planning history of a particular site as a material planning consideration. This seems to be at odds with the endeavor to speed up the planning process, but only time – coupled with numerous consultations – will tell.

If there was one real theme to Mr Barwell’s key note address, it was as he stated, the extent to which this White Paper was indeed a Green Paper. Rather than a swath of interventionist decisions being made in uncertain economic times, the government want to consult further with developers, housing associations, local authorities, and industry experts on the key issues before implementing. Presumably, The Winner Takes It All.