Building a million homes will bring opportunities but tough to achieve without compulsory purchase, CLA debate hears

02 May 2019

Bucks debate 2019 panel

Building one million new homes in the Oxford to Cambridge Arc will bring opportunities but will be difficult to achieve without compulsory purchase, a CLA debate heard.

The Bucks Debate 2019 focused on the latest thinking on land value capture, which despite Brexit remains on the political agenda.

Developer, planning and legal voices were among those to feature at the debate, held at Aylesbury’s Waterside Theatre and supported by Robinson & Hall and Wates Developments.

Chaired by Sir Henry Aubrey-Fletcher, President of the CLA’s Buckinghamshire branch, the evening was particularly timely for the Thames Valley area, with plans for the second phase of the Oxford to Cambridge East-West rail scheme, the Oxford to Cambridge Expressway and up to one million homes all mooted and at various stages of planning and consultation.

David Jones, partner in charge of development and land sales at Robinson & Hall, said of the Oxford-Cambridge Arc plan: “It has taken 50 years to build 100,000 homes in Milton Keynes, and now the aim is to build the equivalent of Milton Keynes 10 times over in just 30 years.”

But he warned: “While these ambitious plans offer landowners enormous opportunities, it could be difficult to achieve without compulsory purchase.”

The idea that government should have the ability to capture uplifts in land values, resulting from the granting of planning permission or infrastructure development, is not new.

Jason Towell, head of planning at Cripps, said previous attempts had largely failed. But it is an idea which never fully goes away, with Oliver Letwin’s review on increasing build out rates and all major political parties recognising the need for development to contribute more towards infrastructure provision.

Several speakers argued Section 106 agreements and CIL already impact on land value, with the CLA’s Interim Director of External Affairs Tom Bartošák-Harlow telling the audience that such mechanisms raised £6bn in 2016/17, providing a range of benefits.

Mr Towell agreed, and added: “The requirement for future developments to demonstrate a biodiversity net gain, and a shift towards education and school provision being paid for by development rather than government, have cost implications and will ‘chip away’ at the financial incentives for landowners.”

John Tarvit, director of planning at Wates, gave an example of a 310-dwelling scheme where 60% of the uplift value was already captured through existing requirements, with S106 and infrastructure provision standing at £13m. Wates spent £5.5m on consultants in 2018, covering everything from bat surveys to tree studies, with no guarantee of planning permission, he said.

With the need to balance the government’s annual target of building 300,000 homes while having enough incentive in the system for landowners to offer sites, what did the panel suggest?

Mr Bartošák-Harlow said the focus should be on making existing systems work better by removing some of the “massive barriers” for landowners, such as uncertainties around planning, and taxation.

Mr Jones called for a quicker planning appeal process, while Mr Towell argued frequent policy changes were unhelpful and it would be beneficial to allow the system to “bed down” so parties can work effectively within existing frameworks.

CLA South East represents thousands of landowners, farmers and rural businesses across Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, Oxfordshire and the wider region.

Regional Director Robin Edwards said: “With so many development and infrastructure plans in the area, the debate proved highly topical and it was pleasing to see such a strong turnout.

“We’d like to thank the speakers, debate partners, chair and audience for what was a very thought-provoking evening.”

For more information about the CLA and its work, visit www.cla.org.uk/your-area/south-east/regional-news and follow @CLASouthEast on Twitter.

Photo from left to right: Tom Bartošák-Harlow, John Tarvit, Sir Henry Aubrey-Fletcher, Jason Towell, David Jones and Robin Edwards.