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The Government announces further planning reforms

10 Jul 2015

‘Fixing the foundations: Creating a more prosperous nation’

On Wednesday 8th July, George Osborne gave his budget speech, setting out a summary of the first all-Conservative Budget in almost 20 years. In his speech, he announced that further planning reforms would be made, which have been formally published today.

The Summer Budget and Planning

Reassuringly, the Budget highlights that for the first time since 2001/02, the national debt is falling and that the UK remains the fastest growing economy G7 economy of 2014, growing by 3% and it is forecasted to continue this way in 2015.

The Budget touched on some planning issues as below:

  • Devolution of Powers - It announced further devolution of powers to the regions, which will include more powers over planning.
  • Local Enterprise Zones – The Government announced an invitation to bid in a new round of Local Enterprise Zones.
  • Transport - The budget committed to establishing improvements to strategic transport services. (Such as an extension of HS1 to Hastings and Rye, extending the study looking at extending the Lewes-Uckfield line and improvements to the Brighton – London mainline).

Further Planning Reforms – 10th July

Further planning reforms have been announced today, under cover of a publication entitled ‘Fixing the foundations: Creating a more prosperous nation’. It acknowledges that the UK has failed to build enough homes to keep up with growing demand, and that this has restricted the ambition of thousands who would like to own their own home.

So what is proposed?

The announcements are not unexpected and have been included in previous consultations on how more housing could be delivered across the nation. A summary of the proposed changes is set out below:

1. Releasing Land for Housing

The Government reaffirmed its commitment to ‘get Britain building’ stating that the planning system places undue burden on the development industry. To assist in this aim, the further changes are proposed:

Local Plans

The Government will set a deadline for local planning authorities (LPAs) to produce a Local Plan. Where LPAs fail to produce plans, the Secretary of State and Local Government will intervene and arrange for plans to be written in consultation with local people.

The Government also announces a proposal to streamline the length of time it takes to prepare local plans, as well as strengthen the guidance on the duty to cooperate with other LPAs on housing and infrastructure needs.

Key commuter hubs and high density housing

It is proposed that consideration will be given to new policies which would support higher density housing around key commuter hubs, particularly in relation to unneeded commercial land.

A Zonal System for Brownfield Land

Of particular interest, is the Governments proposal to create an ‘urban planning revolution’ for brownfield sites. Key to this is the Governments commitment to legislating for a grant of automatic planning permission (in principle) on brownfield sites (identified on the brownfield land register), producing a ‘zonal’ system similar to that in some other countries.

2. Improving the planning process

The delay in processing planning applications is a frequent frustration to the development industry and this is acknowledged in the announcements. To ‘speed up’ the process, the Government hope to:

  • Allow major infrastructure projects with elements of housing to apply through the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Regime (NSIP);
  • Tighten planning performance regime so that LPAs making 50% of fewer decisions on time risk designation;
  • Introduce a fast-track certificate process for establishing the principle of development for minor development;
  • Reduce regulation on housebuilders, removing the proposals for zero carbon Allowable Solution carbon offsetting or the proposed 2016 increase in on-site energy efficiency standards;
  • Introduce a dispute resolution mechanism for S106 Agreements

3. More devolution of planning powers

Housing remains a national priority and the Government remains committed to the devolution of powers to the regions as set out in the Budget. For planning this means devolution of planning powers to City Regions, particularly in London and Manchester. In London, the proposals include the promotion of building ‘upwards’ rather than ‘outwards’, and suggests that there could be proposals to remove the need for planning permission for upwards extensions of a limited number of stories up to that of neighbouring properties (only where neighbours do not object!). It also includes proposals to allow the Mayor of London to call in planning applications for more than 50 dwellings.

4. Starter Homes

The Government remain committed to delivering 200,00 Starter Homes by 2020 (at a 20% discount to First Time Buyers). Various new proposals have been put forwards to help deliver this commitment:

  • Require LPAs to plan proactively for Starter Homes
  • Extend the current exception site policy
  • Enable communities to allocate land for Starter Homes
  • Bring forwards proposals for reasonably sized development to includes a proportion of Starter Homes
  • Implement regulations to exempt these developments from CIL and S106 contributions.

In the South East, the impact of these planning reforms will be interesting, particularly the promotion of a ‘zonal’ system for brownfield land. The length of time it takes to process planning applications, particularly major applications, has been a source of frustration for many and there are also many LPA’s who have failed to produce an up-to-date Local Plan; A review of how to speed up both processes is welcomed, but it will be interesting to see whether the threat of intervention will actually aid the production of Local Plans.

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