Brexit won’t delay housing reform, says Barwell

Jim Dunton

Housing minister outlines ways of speeding up delivery of white paper measures

Housing and planning minister Gavin Barwell has insisted that the “profound” implications of Brexit on the government’s workload will not be allowed to slow the implementation of measures outlined in last month’s housing white paper.

Barwell predicted an influx of Whitehall staff working on the proposals outlined in last month’s Fixing Our Broken Housing Market policy paper, which aims to speed up the delivery of new homes and encourage new entrants to the housing market.

His words came despite a National Audit Office report last month that questioned the civil service’s capacity to deliver on key policy areas at the same time as handling the UK’s departure from the European Union.

Speaking at a joint British Property Federation and Planning Officers Society conference last week, Barwell said the government had a communities secretary, chancellor and prime minister who were “very committed” to the housing agenda.

“Given the priority, I would have thought that we’re going to want more people working in that area,” he said.

Key measures mooted in Fixing Our Broken Housing Market include offering councils greater powers to drive the delivery of new housing, with the potential to seize sites that developers were too slow in bringing forward. Also included were proposals for “standard open book Section 106” arrangements and reform of the Community Infrastructure Levy.

Barwell told the conference that while some of the measures - which are open to consultation until May 2 - would clearly require new legislation, his team were exploring a range of options to implement the proposals as quickly as possible.

“In terms of the speed with which we can get on with the agenda, a lot of the policy changes that are in the document will come in via the National Planning Policy Framework, and I hope we’ll be in a position to do that this summer,” he said.

Barwell said the Neighbourhood Planning Bill, currently in the House of Commons, was another conduit for introducing measures in the white paper.

“One of the ideas is of having New Town Development Corporations that are locally accountable rather than accountable to me,” he said.

“We’ve proposed that as an amendment to the Neighbourhood Planning Bill, so hopefully we’re going to be able to get that on the statute book before the [housing white paper] consultation closes.”

Barwell said Chancellor Philip Hammond’s Autumn Budget would be “the big opportunity” for Section 106 planning obligation changes and alterations to the Community Infrastructure Levy.

“There’s no doubt that the decision taken in this country on June 23 is going to have profound implications on the workload that the government’s got, but I’m clear that this area that I’m responsible for is a real priority,” he said.

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