Author: Helena Thompson, Associate, Planning and Environment, London
Almost a month on, we have now all had a chance to consider what the Housing White Paper means for the future of housing. The planning team here at Herbert Smith Freehills have been asking ourselves – what do we each find most interesting about it? For me, it was the continued protection of the Green Belt and the proposals to build 'up' rather than 'out'. Before local planning authorities can amend Green Belt boundaries, they must first look at the use of brownfield and public sector land and denser building, as well as whether neighbouring authorities can help them out with their development requirements.
Looking at the denser building point in more detail, the government proposes to amend the National Planning Policy Framework ("NPPF") to encourage building both up and more densely in areas well served by public transport and on or over existing low-density use, as well as avoiding building low density homes where there is a shortage of land for meeting housing requirements. Sajid Javid has said that "the priority must be brownfield sites and better use of density…we will even be setting out indicative requirements for provisions [regarding density] that could really help in some urban areas", but what these are no one knows. Although not much detail on density is included in the Housing White Paper, it will clearly be a key issue with a broad impact on developers, particularly in urban areas as cities, towns and villages continue to grow. The potential for new land or "airspace" to be developed could be huge, especially as no limits have yet been suggested by the government regarding how high and how dense buildings can be – is the sky the limit? Probably not – local plans will need to sensitive to daylight and sunlight levels (which are only very briefly mentioned in the White Paper), special skylines, and rights to light.
And so now to the Green Belt. If land is removed from the Green Belt, the government proposes that local policies should require the impact to be offset by compensatory improvements to the remaining Green Belt land, or potentially higher contributions from the developer. Of course, the million dollar question is how much will the authority require and how wide is the scope of the improvements? Will it be at the authority's discretion, and will the authority be required to consider and take into account the value and contribution of Green Belt land to the local area when making a decision on offsetting impacts? This is certainly something to keep an eye on in the near future.
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