Following a preview in the Summer Budget 2015, the Government has moved quickly to provide further planning reforms as part of a wider productivity plan “Fixing the Foundations: Creating a More Prosperous Nation”.

These reforms are of great relevance to the continued efforts by this Government to increase the delivery of housing.

We understand that many of the planning related measures are likely to appear in a Housing Bill in the autumn with additional “strategic” aspects arising from the Devolution Bill which in draft is progressing towards Royal Assent.

Below is a précis of six key aspects which are likely to grab attention within our industry and beyond:

Direct Government Intervention in Plan Making? – With patchy “up to date” local plan coverage continuing to result in an appeal (rather than plan led) system, the Government has resolved to take “further action to ensure that local authorities put local plans in place by a set deadline”.  This deadline, which is expected by parliaments’ summer recess, will result in the publication of league tables which will reveal those authorities who have been tardy in the production of a new local plan, consistent with the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) approach of increasing housing delivery. The document confirms that for such authorities the Secretary of State “will intervene” and “arrange for local plans to be written in consultation with local people”;

Further Reforms to Plan Making Including Guidance on the Duty to Cooperate – Successive Inspector’s decisions on Local Plans continue to highlight difficulties faced by Councils in bringing forward plans that are sufficiently responsive to local needs, including the need to meet full objectively assessed needs for housing and co-operate with other neighbouring authorities when they cannot do so (through the duty to cooperate). The Government has announced the intention to bring forward proposals to significantly streamline the length and process of local plans”. Furthermore, with regard to the duty to cooperate which has been a consistent and successive issue for Councils bringing forward local plans, the Government intends to “strengthen guidance to improve the operation of the duty to cooperate on key housing and planning issues”.

A Brownfield Revolution – Recognising the potential of brownfield sites to contribute towards housing delivery and acknowledging the difficulties they often pose, the Government intends to bring forward “statutory registers of brownfield land suitable for housing in England”. The significant step is an announcement that such land will benefit from a presumption to “grant automatic permission in principle on brownfield sites identified on those registers subject to the approval of a limited number of technical details”.

Streamlining the Process – The Government has also announced a number of specific proposals to speed up the decision making process, particularly for small housebuilders in respect of timescales for the approval of minor planning applications. Further proposals include tightening up the planning guarantee and a the introduction of a fast track certification process to “establish the principle” of minor proposals, further reducing net regulation arising from energy efficiency standards and raising the threshold for poorly performing planning authorities to be put in special measures. A “dispute resolution mechanism for section 106 agreements, to speed up negotiations and allow housing starts to proceed more quickly” has also been announced.

Devolved Planning – A Return to “Strategic” Days and Higher Density Development? A further announcement has indicated how the Devolution Bill will influence the planning landscape. In respect of London, this includes greater powers to the Mayor in respect of calling in planning applications for his own determination and revisions to permitted development rights to enable buildings to increase in height by a limited number of stories without planning permission. In respect of Greater Manchester, this includes powers devolved to the Mayor to use Compulsory Purchase Orders to assemble and deliver land alongside Development Corporations.

In respect of a return to higher density development, Government has signalled the intention to bring forward powers through the Devolution Bill to encourage Mayors to use “development corporations” to deliver “higher density development” and this includes consideration of how “policy can support higher density housing around key commuter hubs” together with considerations of how “national policy and guidance can ensure that unneeded commercial land can be released for housing”.

A full text version of the document is available here.

Our Message

It is still very early days! Whilst much of the detail as to how these measures are to be implemented in practice is yet to emerge these steps should be welcomed by developers and housebuilders across the spectrum from large to small. It serves as a timely reminder to keep abreast of changes to the planning system and fully understand how they could influence outcomes.

To understand how these measures could affect you and your projects and register for further updates, please feel free to contact a member of the team in either our Swindon or Derby Offices.