Are proposed planning reforms a taste of things to come?

When it comes to housing policy, the government has a somewhat dubious track record.

On the one hand, ministers are quick to realise the challenges facing homebuyers, pledging to add to the existing housing stock so that home ownership is a reality for more Brits.

On the other hand, the extent to which these pledges are converted into actual policy reform has been waning.

This has not been helped by the fact that over a period of four prime ministers dating back to 1997, there have been 16 different housing ministers.

To the relief of the industry, it seems that the Theresa May government is finally taking proactive steps in the right direction, complementing its commitment to add 300,000 new homes to the market each year through new initiatives. Earlier this month, housing secretary Sajid Javid announced proposed reforms to house planning laws designed to encourage the approval of additional storeys being added to homes, shops and offices in urban areas. This has been touted as a creative approach to increasing the housing numbers in areas of high demand.

Building upwards to support market demand for property is not new, and some of the UK’s European counterparts have established new planning laws in cities where appetite for property is high. For the most part, these laws strike an effective balance between maintaining the historical integrity and heritage of the city, while also meeting rising market demand – Paris and Barcelona stand out as two such cases. When applying these examples to the UK, there is significant potential for similar practices to be employed in thriving cosmopolitan hubs such as London, as well as rising cities across the Midlands and North of England.

While industry leaders and politicians have generally welcomed the direction of the reforms as the first step in overhauling the country’s complicated planning laws, some have criticised whether these reforms go far enough. Three former Tory ministers have argued that bolder reform is needed, arguing that urban property owners should be allowed to build up to the height of the tallest building in the same block, or to at least five storeys. Failing this, there is a concern that the current proposals will deliver limited relief for those who need it most.

More needs to be done, but credit should be given where it’s due. Encouraging homeowners and developers to add additional storeys to their property is an important measure, and as the effects of this new measure are realised, the government must then consider whether it has delivered the necessary relief to the housing supply.

It is also refreshing to see policy shift away from simply focusing on the construction of new builds – creative measures do exist that can help deliver new properties on to the market in a fast and cost-efficient manner. Over the course of the year, it is necessary for the government to adopt similar reforms to increase the housing opportunities on offer.

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