John Lewis calls for fundamental planning changes

John Lewis calls for fundamental planning changes to unlock global investment to pay for the million rental homes needed in the country.

John Lewis Partnerships store, where new Build to Rent could be built | BTR News

Department store company John Lewis has called out the Government to make fundamental changes to planning policy for Build to Rent to succeed. The company believes that via a few cost-free changes to planning policy, the country could unlock global investment to pay for the £250bn Savills believes is required to build the million rental homes needed by 2030.

Director of Build to Rent Homes at John Lewis, Katherine Russell, highlights three key aspects that could be done to help boost housing supply. The first is to ensure that local councils are compelled to allow building on brownfield sites – as Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Michael Gove has proposed – concrete action needs to happen.

“Creating brownfield development zones (areas with pre-determined planning consents) would solve this. They could prescribe the use – such as rental housing – and pre-agree design principles (such as height or density) to make it more likely that housing gets built quickly. Doing so would speed things up and dramatically attract more investment.”

Katherine Russell, Director of Build to Rent Homes, John Lewis

According to consultants Litchfields, only six councils in London have Build to Rent explicitly referenced in planning policy. Katherine highlights that while ‘guidance’ exists nationally and in the Mayor’s London Plan, councils are free to ignore this.

She also express the need for local plans to mandate a minimum quota of Build to Rent housing and encourage higher density developments close to transport links.

“Taxpayers have invested £19bn into the Elizabeth Line and building around its rail hubs will help drive usage, which makes environmental and commercial sense.”

Katherine Russell, Director of Build to Rent Homes, John Lewis

John Lewis highlights that national guidance already exists around discount market rent, but it is rarely followed. But, reducing friction could unlock tens of billions of pounds of funding and result in two key outcomes: more brownfield development, which all political party’s support, and more key worker housing, which the UK desperately needs.

Katherine expresses the need for planning policy to move with the times – and for politicians to recognise the rental – and housing – crisis we currently face.

“Politicians must recognise we are in the grip of a full-blown rental crisis. Only by unlocking investment for new supply will we change that. If political parties want to secure votes from millions of renters at the next general election, supporting Build to Bent should be front and centre of their manifestos.”

Katherine Russell, Director of Build to Rent Homes, John Lewis

To help ease the dire supply and demand imbalance, John Lewis aims to build around its stores, enabling the company to reinvest into its core retail businesses by strengthening its balance sheet and boosting the value of its property holdings.

With brownfield real estate, John Lewis has proposed plans to build rental homes above its Ealing and Bromley Waitrose stores (which would both be rebuilt) and in Reading on a disused warehouse site. Planning has been submitted for the West Ealing and Bromley sites.

John Lewis aims to boost housing supply in local communities whilst supporting its retail business – and its partnership with investment company abrdn would help finance the plans.