Planning reform was at the heart of yesterday’s Budget, with the announcement of proposals aimed at kick-starting the development industry forming a key part of the Chancellor’s plans for economic growth. Among the announcements were:
Land auction pilot: One of the most radical announcements is a trial of a land auction scheme. This allows local authorities to invite landowners to say how much they would be prepared to sell their land to the local authority for. The local authority can then choose which land to buy, grant itself planning permission and then sell on to a developer - keeping the uplift in land value. The pilot will start with publicly owned land, but this is possibly the ultimate financial incentive to local authorities to grant planning permissions. The idea is fraught with difficulties and the potential for market distortions but has potential to be hugely successful if these problems can be overcome.
12 month guarantee: Delay is one of the biggest complaints about the current system and the Budget proposes a guarantee that all applications and appeals will be dealt with within twelve months. The challenge will be to avoid replicating the unintended result of the last Government’s funding-linked performance targets for local authorities, which frequently resulted in applications being unreasonably refused simply to avoid missing the deadline.
Presumption in favour of sustainable development: The presumption itself is nothing new, having been proposed by the Conservatives back in 2009. Whilst we remain concerned about the presumption being in policy rather than in legislation, the Budget made clear the Government’s commitment to making sure that the default position on any planning application is to approve as long as the requirements of sustainability to be set out in the new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) are met. If the Government achieves this aim, the industry will celebrate.
Business role in neighbourhood planning: Business is to be given a role in the drawing up of the new neighbourhood plans. This will make plans a useful tool in commercial, industrial and retail areas, where businesses will have an opportunity to influence local planning policy.
Easy conversion to residential: The plans to allow the conversion of empty commercial buildings to residential use has been widely trailed and will now be consulted upon, along with other expansions of the permitted development rights allowing movement between use classes.
Comment: The Budget leaves us in no doubt about the Government’s commitment to development and we welcome the announcements made yesterday. Alongside the Budget, the Government has also written to local authorities requiring them to consider relaxing existing section 106 obligations where they are making permitted development unviable and have issued a ministerial statement including a clear expectation that local authorities will put economic growth and job creation at the heart of the planning process. These material considerations have immediate effect and are a powerful support for developers and landowners promoting development.
More importantly, if these announcements are an early indication of the approach that will be taken in the all-important NPPF, they are very reassuring. The NPPF is the key to making a localised planning system work and it must be absolutely clear in its support for sustainable development.