Earlier this month, the Government published a radical and exciting new white paper, Planning for the Future, setting out major reforms for the planning system with the ambition of increasing and revitalising the UK’s housing stock.

Primarily, the reforms aims are to increase the speed and volume of housing developments, to reduce the cost of housing (particularly for prospective younger buyers), and to ensure genuine community involvement in local developments and practices. 

As with our Fairer Share campaign, the white paper appears to take a certain amount of inspiration from the late philosopher Roger Scruton, who held firm in his belief that: 

“People do not only want beauty in their surroundings. They are repelled by ugliness, which is a social cost that everyone is forced to bear. Such buildings destroy the sense of place and undermine the spirit of community.” as noted in the Living with Beauty: report of the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission, of which Scruton was co-chairman.

The white paper’s welcome adoption of locally-developed design codes would undoubtedly move the UK’s planning legislation further inline with what Scruton envisaged for the majority of his career.  As always, it is the detail of these design codes, paired with the level of commitment to community involvement that will determine the extent by which Scruton’s vision is realised. But there is a clear aspiration from the Government to incentivise developers to improve the quality of homes they build.

In addition to the issue of building aesthetically pleasing and appropriate homes, the white paper rightly frames the discussion with the consistent theme of building more homes to meet the UK’s housing needs — with consent from the local community becoming a crucial part of the planning process. It is here where Council Tax reform can play its own role alongside planning reform in achieving the Government’s vision.  

Historically—as noted throughout the paper—one of the major barriers around planning has been NIMBYism. Under the current system, there is a financial incentive for local residents to object to developments — fewer homes mean greater demand and higher prices for their properties. The losers are the government and local authorities, who are forced into making costly interventions to the market, and prospective buyers trying to get a foot on the property ladder. A proportional property tax combined with the Government’s planning reforms can be used realign the incentives and costs of planning objections more fairly. 

For example, if government linked the budget for a local area to a local homes target, residents would clearly see the link between supporting development and spreading the tax burden between more property owners. Conversely local residents may choose to limit supply, increase prices and (as tax is proportional to price) pay more in  property tax which the Government would then spend on increasing effective housing supply elsewhere through more homes or reducing travel times to existing areas with underused supply. This realignment can only exist with a tax linked to property wealth. 

Furthermore, the variability of Council Tax across the country alters the potential incentives for developers. For example, in Westminster the likely buyers and tenants for new housing developments would be relatively unaffected by the local Council Tax rate. Not only is Council Tax lower than other parts of the country  but household incomes are higher in Westminster, meaning households finances would be less impacted by any increase to the tax rate. However, if you take Hartlepool as an example, where the average household income is significantly lower, the high relative cost of £2,090 a year in Council Tax for a Band D property worth under £200,000, could dissuade prospective buyers and tenants from moving to the town, therefore disincentivizing the building of new developments there. 

The removal of Stamp Duty would also assist in advancing the objectives of these planning reforms. Removing the tax on property transactions stimulates the housing market by increasing the incentive to move home, as has been seen with the recent increase in the Stamp Duty threshold to £500,000. The removal of Stamp Duty reduces the cost of relocating for those looking to pursue job opportunities elsewhere in the country. This will improve both labour mobility and workplace productivity. A greater incentive to move would result in the more efficient use of the UK’s housing stock, which in turn would lead to an increase in the number of new residential developments and the volume of homes in the UK.

Council Tax reform can act as a more than useful facilitator to create an environment that spawns the type of developments to which the government is clearly aspiring, namely: attractive homes that stand the test of time, are desired by the communities they inhabit, and are fit for purpose in the 21st Century.

Find out more about Fairer Share’s proposal by visiting our campaign page.