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DAC Beachcroft Planning Experts React to Latest Planning Reforms

Published On: 12 July 2015

In response to the latest planning reforms proposed in HM Treasury's paper 'Fixing the Foundations: Creating a more Prosperous Nation', launched today (10 July), Jamie McKie, planning expert at international law firm DAC Beachcroft LLP, had this to say:

"While the proposed changes are to be welcomed, since they deregulate the planning system further, they don't actually address the more fundamental question of land supply sufficient to cater for 200,000 homes a year. In principle, brownfield land is preferable to greenfield for development, however, there are concerns that insufficient brownfield land exists to meet the country's housing needs. The Government's proposals are a step in the right direction for house building but they fail to grasp the thorny issue of Green Belt land release."

He continued: "The measures put forward by HM Treasury seek to promote growth and prosperity. However, it cannot be ignored that the approach being taken represents a marked shift from the Conservative Party's 'Open Source Planning' and subsequent reforms, which promoted localism and local decisions over Local Plans. These proposals will perhaps move things along but there can be no denying that they will, to a certain extent, represent a move away from the unattainable aspiration that it could all be done at a local level. Hopefully, the Government's next move will be to realise that the same principle applies to a review of the Green Belt."   
"The 'Productivity Plan' addresses particular challenges in the form of a planning system regarded by many as one of the most significant constraints facing the economy, bringing delay and inflexibility. The changing profile of planning means that it is now firmly embedded as an economic consideration in the Government's eyes. Here, it sits alongside unfamiliar bedfellows such as workforce issues and trading and investment."

"This is a powerful statement of intent issued by HM Treasury delivered after the Budget with its firm aim of using planning as a critical tool in delivering prosperity. Attacking an 'excessively strict' planning system, the Government looks to continue the trend of streamlining the planning process that began in 2011 with the Localism Act, followed by the NPPF in 2012."

Background on the key areas earmarked for reform:

Local Plans

The dissatisfaction with the lack of Local Plans currently in place finds expression in the following measures where the Government will:

  • Publish a deadline by which Local Plans must be in place;
  • Publish league tables showing progress;
  • Step in to intervene where they are not produced and arrange for them to be written 'in consultation' with local people;
  • Introduce streamlining measures to reduce the length and process involved in implementing or amending a plan;
  • Strengthen local authorities' duty to cooperate in respect of key housing and planning issues; and
  • Produce guidance and consider how policy changes might support higher density housing around key commuter hubs and the Release of redundant commercial land.  

Zonal System for Brownfield Land 

Perhaps the most eye-catching of all the proposals, this focuses on house building and seeks 'an urban planning revolution on brownfield sites'. The Government will legislate to grant automatic permission in principle on brownfield sites identified on statutory registers. This will introduce a zonal system bringing us in line with the likes of the United States with the hope that it will reduce delays and uncertainties. There will still be approval required for a limited number of 'technical details'. We await confirmation of precisely what such details may comprise and, equally, what if any guidance is issued to address viability issues - a traditional obstacle to brownfield development.

Speeding up Planning Decisions

The Government wants all planning decisions to be made on time and proposes:

  • Legislation to bring major infrastructure projects with housing elements within the NSIP regime;
  • Tightening the planning performance regime and expanding it to cover minor applications;
  • Reducing net regulation on house builders; and
  • Introducing a dispute resolution mechanism for section 106 agreements.

Increased Devolution of Planning Powers

The Government intends to proceed with the devolution of planning powers to the Mayor in London regarding wharves and sightlines and to bring forward proposals allowing the Mayor to call-in applications of 50 homes or more (the threshold is currently 150). There are also plans to deregulate planning further. The Government and Mayor will consider upward extensions and removing the requirement for permission for a limited number of stories up to the height of an adjoining building. But planning devolution will not just take place in the capital. The future Mayor of Greater Manchester will get powers to establish Development Corporations and promote CPOs.

Starter Homes and Right to Buy

As expected, the Government will pursue its controversial extension of the Right to Buy to tenants of Housing Associations via the Housing Bill. It will also 're-focus' DCLG budgets towards 'supporting low cost home ownership for first time buyers'.