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NPPF changes due in the summer as Lewis defends temporary nature of starter homes discount

UK planning and housing minister Brandon Lewis has told the Communities and Local Government Committee that proposed changes to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) are likely to be introduced "over the course of the summer".02 Mar 2016

At an evidence session of the parliamentary committee last week, the minister also said the government still intends the proposed 20% discount on the price of starter homes to end after five years, despite pressure to extend the discount or make it permanent.

Lewis confirmed that starter homes, which will have to be delivered by councils under the Housing and Planning Bill, will need to be owned and occupied by first time buyers for the first five years after being built. However, the minister said the government wanted to assist social mobility by allowing buyers to sell the homes at market value after five years, rather than creating "a second class of home owner" by leaving the discount in place.

Lewis said the loss of affordable housing when starter homes were sold on at market value would be countered by continuing to build more of the homes. When asked how local authorities could continue to meet their obligation to provide a mix of homes, he suggested that many councils have money to build their own socially rented housing if they identify a need for it.

The minister told MPs that, whilst the government is keen to promote the development of new settlements where there is local support, local planning authorities should generally be "focused on small sites". He said small sites were more likely to gain local community support and be delivered more quickly than large-scale developments.

Lewis confirmed to the Committee that there will no longer be any exemptions when the right to change offices into homes without full planning permission becomes permanent. Under the existing temporary permitted development right, areas such as the City of London are exempt. However, Lewis said councils hoping to protect offices from conversion into homes in future will need to use directions under Article 4 of the General Permitted Development Order to remove the right: a process in which the communities secretary can intervene.

Lewis also said there is no intention to allow housing developments to qualify as nationally significant infrastructure projects (NSIPs) in their own right, although proposed changes will allow the development consent order process to be used where NSIPs include "an element of housing".

Planning expert Jennifer Holgate of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said: "The recent poll published in the Guardian and produced by the Town and Country Planning Association indicates that there is a clear tension between the status of starter homes as being 'affordable housing' and the views of the government. With four in five councils taking the view that starter homes cannot be classified as 'affordable', it will be interesting to see what the House of Lords will add to this quite heated debate. Whilst the starter home policy may incentivise first time buyers on the demand side, it remains to be seen whether it will create the right type of supply."

The consultation on changes to the NPPF closed last week. Lewis said around 1,100 responses had been submitted. He confirmed that there are no plans for further consultation on the final proposals or the precise wording of the changes.