Following the release of the Summer 2015 Budget, the first Conservative budget since 1996, George Osborne will today announce the second stage of the Government’s plans for reform. In a 90-page document entitled ‘Fixing the Foundations: Creating a More Prosperous Nation’, Treasury officials will outline the productivity plan that is to act as a secondary element to the main budget. ‘Fixing the Foundations’ is expected to introduce measures in a number of areas, including higher education, trade, transport, tax, digital matters, and greater devolution to regions and cities.
The planning and development sectors once again take a central role in the Government’s plans. The main changes to planning law are to include:
- A new ‘zonal’ system to allow automatic planning permission to be granted on all suitable brownfield sites. This follows the approach employed in many other countries, including the U.S., with the intention that unnecessary delays to redevelopment are removed.
- Strengthening of compulsory purchase powers, so that more brownfield land in particular can come forward for redevelopment. The London and Manchester mayors are expected to be given considerable powers over land as part of this.
- Powers for government to intervene to ensure local plans outline how housing needs will be met, where local planning authorities do not otherwise produce adequate local plans.
- The introduction of penalties for local planning authorities that fail to make decisions on planning applications within the statutory or agreed time-frames, at least where 50% or fewer decisions are made ‘on time’. This is in-line with previous changes that effectively introduced ‘naming and shaming’ of underperforming local planning authorities via a designation system.
- Proposals so planning permission is no longer required in London for upwards extensions of a limited number of storeys, where the extension brings a building up to the same height as adjoining properties.
- A package to encourage small and medium-size housing developments, including sanctions where a local authority does not process smaller applications promptly.
A particularly significant and welcome change for the development sector is the additional, long-awaited proposal that major infrastructure projects which include housing elements will now fall under the auspices of the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project regime, provided various criteria are satisfied. This will allow relevant applications to circumvent some of the usual democratic consultation steps and be fast-tracked, dealt with by a specialised unit within The Planning Inspectorate as necessary.
During the General Election campaign, it was promised that 200,000 homes would be made available to first-time buyers in England by 2020. Some measures have already been introduced by the new Government to achieve this target. However, concerns about delays, elongated procedures and lack of local authority resources unnecessarily hindering development has continued. The Chancellor though is expected to say today: “Britain has been incapable of building enough homes. The reforms we made to the planning system in the last parliament have started to improve the situation: planning permissions and housing starts are at a seven-year high....We’ll keep on protecting the green belt, but these latest planning reforms are a vital part of a comprehensive plan to confront the challenge of our lifetime”.