Another Government, another Budget, another reboot of the planning system in England and Wales. The Government has launched its productivity plan for the UK Economy, titled "Fixing the foundations: creating a more prosperous nation". The Government underlines in the foreward to the publication that the reforms set out within it shall be delivered with "urgency and pace". So what reforms is the Government now proposing to the planning system?

Releasing land for the homes people need

The Government says it will:

  1. be taking further  action to ensure that local authorities put local plans in place by a set deadline to be confirmed by the Summer parliamentary recess;
  2. produce a league table of local authority performance in providing local plans for "the jobs and homes needed locally".  In effect, the Government will take it upon itself to name and shame local authorities which drag their heals on producing a local plan;
  3. give power to DCLG to intervene where local authorities do not produce a local plan, and itself write the local plan in consultation with local people.

A zonal system for brownfield land 

The Government has already said it will legislate for a statutory register of brownfield land suitable for housing in England.  It will now go further and grant automatic 'in principle' planning permission on brownfield sites identified on those registers, subject to the prior approval of a limited number of technical details.

The Government will also be legislating in this session of Parliament on the first set of proposed reforms to the CPO process to help local authorities and others to "drive forward and shape brownfield development".  This has been long awaited by planning lawyers - the question is: where to start with the complex web of CPO legislation which is stacked with provisions ripe for reform?

Improving the planning process - ensuring planning decisions are made on time

The Government will:

  1. legislate to allow major infrastructure projects with an element of housing to be consented through the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Regime (NSIP);
  2. tighten the 'planning guarantee' for minor applications;
  3. introduce a dispute resolution mechanism for negotiations on section 106 agreements; and
  4. tighten the planning performance regime, so if a local planning authority fails to make 50% or fewer decisions on time it shall be deemed at risk of 'designation' under that regime.

More devolved planning powers  

The Mayor of London will get further planning powers, starting with new powers over river wharves and protected sightlines.  The Mayor's call in power will be extended to cover planning applications of 50 homes or more.

There will be a headline grabbing consultation on upwards only extensions for a limited number of stories up to the height of an adjoining building where neighbouring residents do not object.  The Government hopes that helping "London to 'build up' in this way will reduce the need to 'build out'".

The Mayor of Greater Manchester will get new CPO and Development Corporation powers which may be exercised with the consent of the Cabinet member representing the Manchester borough in which the power is to be used.

Starter Homes and Right to Buy

The Government is to require local authorities to plan proactively for starter homes and introduce a presumption in favour of a new class of Starter Home Development.

Starter Home Development will be exempt from CIL and section 106 contributions for affordable housing and tariff style payments.

Other Matters

The Planning reforms the Government has announced, need to be read in the round with the extensive reforms set out in the 'Fixing the foundations' document which cover transport, energy, devolution and driving forward the Northern Powerhouse.

Many of the planning and related reforms set out in the new productivity plan will undoubtedly necessitate primary or secondary legislation to bring forward, but one thing is for sure: the Government has hit the ground running on its economic agenda, and sees the continuing delay and red tape built into the current planning system as a stymie to economic growth.  It will now be assessed on whether it can now deliver its reforming agenda in an already packed Parliamentary calendar with the "urgency and pace" it intends.

A copy of the Treasury document can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/fixing-the-foundations-creating-a-more-prosperous-nation