In anticipation of the unveiling of the Housing Bill in October, we take a look at the government's current position on further planning reform.
As revealed in HM Treasury’s ‘Fixing the Foundations’ productivity plan of July, the government are considering a number of radical proposals for planning reform. Further details were given by Brandon Lewis, Minister for Housing and Planning, in his evidence to the Communities and Local Government Committee on 7 September.
LOCAL PLAN ACCELERATION
As well as further streamlining and speeding up of the local plan making process, the government requires local plans to be in place by March 2017. Brandon Lewis has confirmed that this will not be a statutory duty. However, where plans are not brought forward, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government will have power to arrange for local plans to be written ‘in consultation with local people’. This follows a recent trend of increased government interference in plan-making. At a time when public services are stretched to the limits, there are concerns about the resources needed to implement the proposal.
The government’s continued rejection of Labour’s top down housing targets and regional planning has left a void which the duty to co-operate is failing to fill. There are proposals to strengthen the duty, but Brandon Lewis has confirmed it will not become a duty to agree.
Building on the government’s plan for statutory registers of brownfield land suitable for housing, a zonal system will be introduced whereby automatic permission in principle is granted for those sites, subject to technical details. Brandon Lewis suggested in his evidence that power will rest with authorities to allocate sites and to do sufficient work at the initial stage to give a guide on approximate acceptable densities. Details will be in the Housing Bill, but Lewis sees particular benefit for small and medium sized developers who have difficulty accessing finance ahead of the principle of development being established.
The government will devolve additional planning powers in London to the Mayor. The Mayor’s call in power is to be extended to include planning applications of 50 homes or more (previously 150 homes). Increasing the density of brownfield development is also on the cards, with consideration being given to permitted development rights in London to build up to the height of adjoining buildings, providing the neighbours do not object. The government is currently consulting the Mayor on the proposal.
The government’s broad range of proposals include:
- a commitment to 200,000 starters homes by 2020 at 20% discount for young first time buyers including on rural exception sites and part of the housing mix on larger sites, with potential exemptions from CIL and s 106 requirements;
- a fast-track certificate process and use of the planning performance regime for minor development proposals;
- allowing an element of housing within Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects;
- a dispute resolution mechanism for section 106 agreements to unlock disputes;
- modernisation and strengthening of the compulsory purchase system.
The government has set an ambitious agenda of reform to increase house building across the country. However, many within the industry believe that too many challenges remain for the necessary step-change in house building to be achieved, including the difficulties of working with neighbourhood plans and the major constraint imposed by the green belt. The introduction of the Housing Bill in October is keenly awaited.