The Letwin Review: No Yeezy Answers

Written by
David Scane, Associate Partner
Newgate Communications

Most people, when asked, will tell you that there are strikingly few comparisons to be made between Kanye West and Sir Oliver Letwin. However, it turns out that the two men share one vital thing in common- a love of releasing highly anticipated work with very little fanfare.

Yesterday afternoon, after months of speculation, Sir Oliver dropped his report into ‘Independent Review of Build Out’ in the house building industry. Speculation had been rife about what the report might contain, with many commentators suggesting it would include a radical announcement around land value capture.

As it transpired, the report did contain radical plans, but not necessarily what the industry expected. Sir Oliver identifies, quite correctly, that slow build out rates are not caused by ‘nasty developers’ banking consented land. He also identifies a lack of coordination between utility companies, transport providers and central government in the delivery of key infrastructure.

However, Sir Oliver concludes that the main issue surrounding build out rates is the lack of diversity on larger sites (identified as being over 1,500 homes). To counter this he proposes giving local authorities greater powers to masterplan sites, and calls on the Government to introduce new legislation to empower the creation of new Local Development Companies. Overseeing this new process would be a ‘National Expert Committee’ made up of industry professionals who would act as an arbitrator between councils and developers.

On paper it appears an eminently sensible suggestion. Sir Oliver is right to give local authorities greater powers to unlock sites (and the associated funding to support this). He is right to emphasise the role that Homes England can play in supporting and guiding development, and yet the shortcomings of the proposals are immediately apparent.

The report calls for new legislation, and new planning policies to set out diversification of sites. It calls for the effective creation of another tier of authority in the planning process with the creation of the committee of experts. And it tells local authorities they will have to embark on yet another round of plan making when many have just completed, or are nearing the end of their current local plan process.

The ideals and aims set out in the Letwin Report are quite correct, and he’s clearly got a good grasp of the subject. However, to achieve his aims requires a lot of upfront work to get to a position where they are deliverable, and it isn’t apparent that the industry, or indeed local authorities, are ready for further wholesale change at the current time.

There was much anticipation in the lead up to the publication of Letwin’s Report, but now it’s dropped the industry may conclude that it’s not yet ready for more change.

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