The new Tory government has passed its "first test" by putting housebuilding on the agenda with plans aimed at boosting building on brownfield sites, according to Housing charity Shelter.
In an rare show of support for a government policy, campaigners and housing groups have welcomed Chancellor George Osborne's announcement that developers will be able to bypass planning permission and build homes on disused industrial land, or 'brownfield' sites, in a set of reforms aimed at tackling Britain's chronic housing shortage.
The response comes after experts told The Huffington Post UK that the last coalition government didn't understand the housing crisis and had rolled out over 200 “piecemeal schemes” which had "made no difference."
But Osborne's announcement has received an uncharacteristically warm reception. It will allow derelict brownfield plots to be seized for development, new housing to be fast-tracked and penalties to be imposed on local councils which fail to act to meet local housing demands. A new zonal system will give automatic planning permission on all "suitable" brownfield sites.
Shelter’s Roger Harding said the announcement was a "huge step forward" which was “recognising the need for bold action to get more homes built".
"As the chancellor rightly points out, we are in the middle of a chronic housing shortage," Harding said, "which is pushing home ownership out of reach and millions of people into insecure and unstable private renting.
“Recognising the need for bold action to get more homes built is a huge step forward, and – as outlined in our report with KPMG – zoning powers are an effective way to reduce costs and increase supply."
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But Harding warned: "The devil really is in the detail here, and the key test will be whether these new plans prioritise building the genuinely affordable homes we desperately need. With plans to sell-off social housing to fund a Right to Buy extension, and pay for discount starter homes at the expense of homes for people on lower incomes, there is a real danger that these plans won’t help ordinary people struggling with sky high housing costs.
“This government might have passed their first test by putting building more homes on the agenda, but if they want succeed in finally turning our housing crisis around, committing to more investment in genuinely affordable homes in the autumn spending review is absolutely vital.”
Clarissa Corbisiero, head of policy at the National Housing Federation, echoed the call for affordable homes to be built, but the federation was "excited" about the new powers for developers. “One thing that we all agree on is we desperately need to build more homes as we are currently building just half the number this country needs.
"We are pleased that government has recognised that one way to boost the supply of new homes is to streamline and simplify planning to help speed up new housing developments and give certainty to developers through increasing the amount of land available for new homes.
"We are excited about the new possibilities devolved powers will bring in Greater Manchester and other areas so that decisions about land and housebuilding will be made at a local level to truly meet the needs of local communities.”
Andrew Bridges, managing director of Stirling Ackroyd Estate Agents in London, praised the announcement for addressing a desperate need to build new homes in the capital. “This is the change that London needs. With just 5,420 new homes completed in the first quarter of 2015, we need a 160% increase in the rate of finished homes to house London's accelerating population.
Bridges continued: “Back in 2013 Osborne and Johnson set a target of 40,000 new homes per year for the capital, but London is expected to see an influx of almost a million people over the next ten years," he said. "In addition, the average number of people per household is shrinking. The combined forces of smaller households and a growing population mean we’ll need nearly 570,000 homes to be built in London over the next decade.
But critics are likely to accuse the Government of stripping the opponents of new developments of vital powers to object.
Mr Osborne insisted the plans would help tackle the housing shortage, and make Britain more prosperous.
He said: "Britain has been incapable of building enough homes. The reforms we made to the planning system in the last parliament have started to improve the situation: planning permissions and housing starts are at a seven-year high.
"But we need to go further and I am not prepared to stand by when people who want to get on the housing ladder can't do so. We'll keep on protecting the green belt, but these latest planning reforms are a vital part of a comprehensive plan to confront the challenge of our lifetime and raise productivity and living standards.
"This will not be achieved overnight and will require a truly national effort by government, business and working people. But with this productivity plan, I believe that we have taken the vital first step towards securing the prosperity and livelihoods of generations to come.
"It is my ambition that by 2030, Britain becomes the richest of all major economies."
Planning powers will be devolved to mayors in London and Manchester while permission to build upwards to the height of the adjoining building will no longer be needed in the capital under the proposals.
Enhanced compulsory purchase powers will allow more brownfield land to be made available while major infrastructure projects with housing incorporated will be given a speedier passage through the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Regime (NSIP).
Extra support for smaller house builders will include new sanctions for local authorities that do not deal with applications quickly enough.
British workers' output levels lag behind other leading nations and the issue has become known as the productivity puzzle
Boosting the rate to US levels would increase national income by 31% while just a 0.1% hike would grow the economy by £35bn in 2030, around £1,100 extra for every household, according to the Treasury.
The 90-page report, being launched in Birmingham, will also set out proposals for higher education, transport, trade, devolution of power to cities and regions, skills, long-term investment, tax, digital and science.
Business Secretary Sajid Javid said: "This plan lays the foundations for a stronger future. Every part of government will be involved.
"Under-supply of housing pushes up house prices in many areas and means millions of people can't live and work where they want to, or even own their own home. We are absolutely determined to see more planning permissions granted and more houses built."