The Chancellor, George Osborne, has announced new planning laws will be introduced to streamline the planning process and encourage more housebuilding.
The news proposals include automatic approval of planning in principle on suitable brownfield sites under a new ‘zonal’ system. This measure is designed to allow authorities and others to drive forward brownfield development.
The initiative is part of a package of measures – called ‘Fixing the Foundations’ – and is designed to raise productivity in the country.
Other measures include powers for the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to intervene in local authorities where a Local Plan has not been put in place and to arrange for plans to be drawn up. Proposals will also be put forward to streamline the length of time it takes for Local Plans to be produced.
The government has also announced it will introduce a fast-track process to establish the principle of development for minor development proposals. They also plan to ‘significantly tighten’ the planning guarantee for minor applications. It will also introduce a ‘dispute resolution mechanism’ for section 106 agreements, with the intention of speeding up negotiations and allowing housing starts to proceed more rapidly.
Reaction from the industry has been mixed. Dominic Waters, development director at housebuilder Waters Homes believes the move is long overdue: “Up until now, building on brownfield land has been rife with both political and physical obstacles, but, with the right people on board, the value of transforming communities on previously occupied sites is huge.”
Melanie Leech, chief executive of the British Property Federation, said: “The raft of planning announcements today really hit the nail on the head for a number of planning issues. We are particularly pleased to see a commitment to bring forward brownfield land for redevelopment and also the focus on Local Plans, as the absence of such is a real block to local growth.”
Brian Berry, FMB Chief Executive, said: “Housing has for too long been put in a separate box from economic development, infrastructure needs and productivity. Today’s announcement marks a significant step towards correcting that imbalance. It also shows an admirable determination to free up smaller locally-based house builders to do what they do best and deliver high quality housing on small sites in sustainable locations.”
However notes of concern have also been raised. Britain’s oldest housing and planning charity, the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) has expressed concern about the implications of widespread changes to planning law. Kate Henderson, TCPA Chief Executive said: “Good planning is important to every one of us. Without planning Britain would look very different – we wouldn’t have well-designed attractive cities, market towns and villages, greenbelt and national parks. A planning system which is truly fit for purpose will enable England to work to its full potential and for every person, despite their means, to live in attractive, affordable and well-designed communities with jobs.”
Andrew Burgess, Planning Director of Churchill Retirement Living believes that the planning reforms don’t give sufficient weight to older people’s housing needs. “There is a danger that elements of these reforms will actually act as a barrier for freeing up family homes for those wanting to downsize, as there will not be sufficient housing for them. We’re concerned to hear that presumption will be in favour of starter home development on brownfield land. With so much focus on those at the start of the housing ladder, local authorities must also ensure an appropriate range of housing is offered to older people, not just blindly adhering to this presumption without properly considering local need.”
The UK Green Building Council is concerned that the government does not intend to proceed with the zero carbon Allowable Solutions carbon offsetting scheme, or the proposed 2016 increase in on-site energy efficiency standards. Julie Hirigoyen, Chief Executive of the UK Green Building Council, said: “Let us be in no doubt this announcement is the death knell for zero carbon homes. It is short-sighted, unnecessary, retrograde and damaging to the house building industry which has invested heavily in delivering energy efficient homes. Britain needs more housing but there is no justification for building homes with a permanent legacy of high energy bills.”
The full report ‘Fixing the foundations: Creating a more prosperous nation’ can be found here.