Housing and Planning Minister Gavin Barwell MP has suggested that the Government’s upcoming Housing White Paper will include measures to boost construction skills, and to increase planning fees.
Mr Barwell dropped the hints last week during his appearance before the Bill Committee scrutinising the Neighbourhood Planning Bill. During a Committee discussion on skill shortages in the construction sector, Mr Barwell said:
“You are obviously aware that we are publishing a White Paper later in the year. We are thinking about an overall strategy for how we get this country building the homes that the Prime Minister wants to see us building, and a key ingredient of that is ensuring we have enough people with the right skills, both within local councils’ planning departments, more generally in the planning world and in the construction industry – making sure that we have got enough people out there to actually build these homes. The skills agenda – ensuring we have got the right people in the right places with the right skills – is absolutely a cornerstone of the strategy that we need to build.”
The mention of local councils’ planning departments prompted a number of MPs to argue for an increase in planning fees, to help fund over-stretched Council planning departments. Mr Barwell reported that he had received:
‘‘an almost unanimous message from local government and developers themselves on the need to get more resourcing into our planning departments…the consultation [on increasing planning fees] has happened and we are waiting to respond to it. The realistic likelihood is that the response will come in the White Paper.’’
The Committee hearing provided one further insight – confirmation that the Government is prepared to review environmental regulations in the wake of Brexit. Mr Barwell, in response to a request to water-down protections for great crested newts on development sites, said:
“The decision we took as a country on 23 June will lead to some short-term challenges…but it also offers some opportunities to look at the laws that we have and ask, “Are these the right laws for the UK?” I am sure that all Members of the House will want to ensure that we have proper environmental protections and proper protections for endangered species, but if we look at a law and say, “Actually the way that law is working in this country is disproportionate or leading to some perverse outcomes”, there will be an opportunity to review it.’’