UK must coordinate housing and infrastructure delivery, says ICE

Out-Law News | 12 Sep 2019 | 10:08 am | 2 min. read

The delivery of new homes and new infrastructure must be "more strategic and aligned" so that both can properly meet future need, according to the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE).

ICE's annual 'state of the nation' policy report (32-page / 5.5MB PDF) makes 10 recommendations to the UK government, as well as the devolved governments of Scotland and Wales, aimed at bringing the housing and infrastructure sectors together. The recommendations cover planning, funding and financing and future-proofing.

The recommendations include amending the charter of the independent National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) to include housing in the definition of economic infrastructure; evolving the role of England's regional transport bodies to include other types of infrastructure and local housing; and amending the development consent order (DCO) process to allow for the delivery of large-scale housing projects.

Research by ICE found that 60% of people would support the construction of more housing in their local area if the necessary new infrastructure, such as transport, energy and water, was built at the same time.

Owen Robbie

Robbie Owen

Partner

Work is urgently needed on a series of policy and legislative changes that are fundamental to sorting the housing crisis out.

Infrastructure law expert Robbie Owen of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law, said that an integrated approach on housing and infrastructure from the government was "essential".

"The government can't simply press pause on the housing crisis while it attempts to tackle Brexit - over one million homes are needed in the Oxford to Cambridge Arc alone," said Owen, who is part of the steering group that contributed to the report. "Work is urgently needed on a series of policy and legislative changes that are fundamental to sorting the crisis out."

"In his spending round last week, the chancellor called for an 'infrastructure revolution', but made no reference or commitments to housing, an indivisible part of our national infrastructure but too often seen by past governments as a matter for localism and local authorities, which then fail to deliver. This very welcome report shows that the chancellor's ambition is supported, but government has to put housing at the heart of its strategy to develop sustainable communities. We need clarity on planning, funding, delivery mechanisms, the quality of existing housing stock and modern methods of construction," he said.

The report recommends that the role of England's regional transport bodies should be expanded to incorporate other economic infrastructure and their interactions with housing. These new 'subnational infrastructure bodies' should be tasked with creating integrated regional infrastructure strategies that incorporate housing, which in turn should feed into the National Infrastructure Strategy. The report recommends that the 'mature' transport bodies – Transport for the North, Midlands Connect and England's Economic Heartland – should take on this new role first.

The DCO process should be amended so that it can be used to more quickly deliver large-scale housing developments of 5,000 homes or more where appropriate, according to the report. The UK government must also follow through with the previous administration's commitment to develop a 'strategic infrastructure tariff', allowing local authorities to pool resources to fund specific shared infrastructure projects.

ICE recommends that the government extend the Housing Infrastructure Fund, which allows local authorities in England to bid for funding for housing-related infrastructure, beyond 2023-24. The government should also replace the current system of 'bidding rounds' with a continuous programme of funding. The Scottish Housing Infrastructure Fund, Rural Housing Fund and Islands Housing Fund should also be extended, while the Welsh government should consider establishing a similar fund.

The NIC charter should be amended so that it explicitly includes housing in its remit, which would require the NIC to consider housing implications during future reports to the government. ICE has also recommended that the NIC identify options for future-proofing new housing developments, ensuring that decisions are strongly linked to the future of transport, water, energy and digital infrastructure, as part of its next formal National Infrastructure Assessment.