On July 10th 2015, following the Summer Budget, the Government issued its productivity plan: “Fixing the foundations: creating a more prosperous nation”.

In summary, HM Treasury and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills described the document as setting out:

“….a 15-point plan that the government will put into action to boost the UK’s productivity growth, centred around two key pillars: encouraging long-term investment, and promoting a dynamic economy. It sets out the government’s long-term strategy for tackling ‎the issues that matter most for productivity growth.”

The plan comprises 16 chapters and, in relation to planning, the two chapters of most relevance are:

  • Chapter 9 “Planning Freedoms and more houses to buy”; and
  • Chapter 15 “Resurgent cities, a rebalanced economy and a thriving Northern Powerhouse”.

The plan covers many areas including taxation, transport and energy.  Set out below, however, are the main proposals in relation to planning which focus primarily on the delivery of housing.

Housing:

  • a new zoning system will be created in England which will  grant planning permission automatically (subject to certain “technical details”) on suitable brownfield sites which are identified in a statutory register of brownfield land;
  • tougher action will be taken against local authorities who have not got local plans in place by a set deadline (that deadline is to be announced before Parliament rises for the summer recess);
  • league tables will be published by the Government setting out local authorities’ progress in providing plans to deliver housing and jobs locally;
  • significant intervention will be undertaken by central government to the extent that they will arrange, where considered necessary, for local plans to be written (in consultation with local people);
  • proposals will be put forward to streamline the process of local plan preparation and to reduce the length of local plans (in both cases of implementing a plan and amending a plan);
  • proposals to improve co-ordination between local authorities will be introduced and the guidance on the operation of the duty to co-operate on key housing and planning issues will be strengthened;
  • consideration will be given to how to support higher density housing around key commuter hubs and how national policy and guidance can ensure that un-needed commercial land can be released for housing;
  • stronger and fairer compulsory purchase powers will be introduced in Autumn 2015, following the compulsory purchase consultation issued earlier this year;
  • legislation will be brought in to allow major infrastructure projects “with an element of housing” to apply through the NSIP regime for development consent;
  • the planning performance regime will be extended to include minor applications and tightened so that local authorities who make 50% or fewer decisions on time are at risk of designation and essentially put into special measures;
  • a fast-track certificate process is proposed to establish the principle of development for minor development proposals;
  • in order to help deliver the Government target of 200,000 starter homes for first time buyers being built by 2020 a proposal to require local authorities to “plan proactively” for the delivery of starter homes is to be issued as well as strengthening the presumption in favour of starter home developments and enabling communities to allocate land for starter home developments including through neighbourhood plans;
  • regulations will be implemented to exempt starter home developments from CIL and re-affirming through planning policy that section 106 affordable housing contributions and tariff-style general infrastructure funds will not be sought for starter home developments;
  • a dispute resolution procedure for section 106 agreements will be introduced.

Devolution and the Northern Powerhouse:

  • major new planning powers will be devolved to the Mayors of London and Manchester beginning with powers in relation to wharves and sightlines to the Mayor of London;
  • proposals will be brought forward to allow the Mayor of London to call-in planning applications of 50 homes or more;
  • the Government will work with the Mayor of London to bring forward proposals (presumably via changes to permitted development rights) to remove the need for planning permission for upwards extensions for a limited number of stories up to the height of an adjoining building where neighbouring residents do not object;
  • proposals will be brought forward to allow the Mayor of Greater Manchester to produce development corporations and promote compulsory purchase orders with these powers exercisable with the consent of the Cabinet member representing the borough in which the power is to be used.

Infrastructure:

  • a decision will be taken on airport capacity in the south east before the end of 2015 following the issue of the Airports Commission report and, if it agrees with the assessment that there is a need for further airport capacity in the south east, then the Government will also consider the best route for achieving planning consents;
  • it is proposed that a new long term National Infrastructure Plan for the key economic infrastructure sectors (transport, energy, flood defences, water, waste, communications and science) will be published supported by annual updates on progress with delivery.

The BPF responded to the planning proposals set out in the plan stating that it “hit the nail on the head for a number of planning issues”. However, they also noted that many of the measures would only work if the severe shortage of funds to local planning authorities was addressed.