A new secretary of state, Greg Clark, has been appointed to the UK Department for Communities and Local Government. A strong advocate of localism, Clark was minister of state for decentralisation from 2010 to September 2012, in which role he was largely responsible for the National Planning Policy Framework published in March 2012.
If the new Conservative government is to live up to its election manifesto promises, the following are some of the key policies on Clark's to-do list.
The Queen's Speech included a Cities Devolution Bill which will deliver Greater Manchester's first mayor, whose powers will extend to planning, housing and transport. In a May 14 2015 announcement Chancellor George Osborne encouraged other big cities to follow Manchester's lead by bidding for devolved powers.
The housing shortage remains a top priority, with Conservative manifesto pledges that mirror the previous coalition government's policies, including the following:
- Local authorities are to have a register of brownfield (previously developed) land available for development and will be required to ensure that 90% of "suitable" brownfield sites have planning permission for housing by 2020. The manifesto also promises to fund the housing zones that were introduced under the last government to build 95,000 new homes on brownfield sites.
- Promises have been made to build:
- 200,000 new starter homes, to be sold at 20% below market price to first-time buyers aged under 40;
- 275,000 additional affordable homes by 2020; and
- 10,000 new homes to rent at below market rent, for people saving for a deposit.
- The Help to Buy scheme will be extended to cover another 120,000 homes, while the Help to Buy mortgage guarantee will continue until 2017 and the Help to Buy equity loan scheme will continue until "at least" 2020. In addition, a new Help to Buy individual savings account will be introduced.
The Conservative manifesto confirmed the creation of a London Land Commission tasked with producing a comprehensive database of publicly owned brownfield land in the capital. This body has already been promised £1 million in funding in the 2015 budget.
Local authorities will be expected to manage their assets "more efficiently" and sell their most expensive properties as they fall vacant, in order to fund new homes to replace properties sold to housing association tenants under an extended Right to Buy scheme.
One pledge in the Conservative manifesto promises a significant departure from the status quo: the repeal of the Human Rights Act 1998 and replacement of the European Convention on Human Rights with a British Bill of Rights. Changes to judicial review procedure enacted by the previous coalition government have already tightened the procedure for challenging planning decisions in the courts. Repealing the Human Rights Act could, in the longer term, affect the courts' approach to planning, compulsory purchase and public law claims generally. In planning and environmental matters, however, the government is likely to find that the protections of the European Convention on Human Rights are echoed in the Aarhus Convention, to which the United Kingdom will still be a party.
Manifesto pledges that are thin on detail include:
- the continuation of existing protections of the green belt and the encouragement of brownfield development;
- a promise to "support locally-led garden cities" such as Ebbsfleet and Bicester in cases "where communities want them". Local authorities will bear most of the burden of bringing plans for garden cities to fruition;
- when planning permission is granted for new homes, a promise to ensure that "local communities know up-front that necessary infrastructure such as schools and roads will be provided";
- promotion of business improvement districts and "other forms of business-led collaboration on high streets"; and
- the allocation of £300 million to reducing light pollution from new roads, creating more tunnels, building better noise barriers and restoring lost habitats. New roads and railways will be built in a way that mitigates their environmental impact.
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