Local authorities are set to play a pivotal role in building one million new homes in the UK by 2020. In a move which reiterates the UK government’s ambitions David Cameron has announced a robust framework which will place intense pressure on local authorities to deliver. This is by far and away the most productive new build policy from any government in recent times with an interesting emphasis on allowing unused offices to be converted to residential properties without planning permission required for a permanent change.
The use of underutilised properties is perfectly illustrated by the office conversion scheme which was introduced on a temporary basis in May 2013. Indeed between April 2014 and June 2015 there were 4000 such conversions across the UK.
Relaxation of planning regulations
There is no doubt that growth in online shopping has had a massive impact upon the UK high street and UK office space. The ability to convert unused office space into residential accommodation will immediately give a boost to the UK building sector. There are high hopes that this move heralds a major change in the attitude of politicians who have previously promised much in the way of new home builds but very often failed to deliver. Indeed, we only need to look back at the last election to see some extremely ambitious figures rolled out by all political parties.
The role of local authorities
The Housing and Planning Bill announced by David Cameron will force local authorities to come up with a credible plan by 2017 in relation to new home builds. It is interesting to see that while 82% of councils have published their plans for new homes in the future, only 65% have actually adopted them, and 18% are yet to even publish them. The UK authorities have taken a very hard line approach to this particular issue by making it very public, involving the general public and threatening to take control of new build plans where councils fail to deliver by 2017.
It was also interesting to learn that the government has committed to deliver 200,000 starter homes and give 1.3 million tenants the right to buy their properties. In many ways this is similar to the Thatcher era which kickstarted a monumental shift in the UK housing market and allowed many to climb aboard the property ladder.
Future new home builds
While it is all good and well the UK government announcing plans to control short-term new home builds across the country it was interesting to see a more long-term approach following behind. Local councils will now be obliged to make public their plans for new homes in their area over a 15 year period with regular reviews around every five years. The local public will also be given more of a role in pushing these plans forward with, as we touched on above, the UK government planning to speak directly with the local public where local councils fail to deliver.
While many have been sceptical of David Cameron’s plans to revolutionise the UK housing market the Housing and Planning Bill is certainly a good start. Placing pressure on local authorities to deliver on their promises on new home builds and involving the public to a greater extent should ensure faster progress than we have seen in years gone by. The opportunity to fast track the conversion of unused office property for residential use is something which has been noted by many property investors.
In many ways this move will also hold to account not only the UK government but also local councils both of which have promised to assist first-time buyers but on many occasions failed to deliver.