What are the implications for planning and development following the general election? Which manifesto pledges are likely to dominate in the coming months and beyond?
Having fallen short of an overall majority in the general election, the Conservatives have formed a minority government reliant on a confidence and supply deal with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).
Under this agreement, finalised on 26 June, the DUP will support Conservative legislation on a case-by-case basis. How this process will play out in policy terms remains to be seen. In particular, the DUP positions on planning, infrastructure, energy policy and housing remain unclear.
This article sets out the key themes from the Conservative manifesto from a planning perspective, drawing on relevant sectors and highlights possible pressure points in the light of the hung parliament result.
At the centre stage of the Conservative manifesto is the promise of a National Productivity Investment Fund of £23 billion to target areas critical to productivity, in particular housing, economic and digital infrastructure and research, development and skills.
In terms of infrastructure, this will encompass the largest investment in the railways since Victorian times with £1.1 billion earmarked to improve local transport and a continued commitment to existing programmes of strategic national investments such as High Speed 2, the expansion of Heathrow Airport, Northern Powerhouse rail and expansion of motorways and strategic road networks. There is also an explicit promise to optimise regional potential and growth through a strategic focus on connectivity.
We can expect to see active encouragement of regional development and interconnectivity with support being given to large scale infrastructure projects to be consented by way of Development Consent Orders. Given the make-up of the government, however, there is likely to be intense debate over how these projects will be delivered.
The Conservative’s key promises were made under the overarching banner of 'fixing the dysfunctional housing market' with the following pledges:
- Deliver a million homes by the end of 2020 and half a million more by the end of 2022.
- Implement the Housing White Paper reforms and free up more land for building.
- Encourage modern construction methods and diversification in terms of building contractors, incentivise more private sector developers and enhance councils’ powers to intervene to prevent ‘landbanking’ by reforming and clarifying valuation of land at the CPO level.
- Build 160,000 houses on government land and to maintain, but not increase, existing protections on designated land such as Green Belt and Areas of Outstanding Beauty.
- Continue the £2.5 billion flood defence programme for existing homes.
It will be important to track which of these pledges are prioritised and implemented. In the short term, there is a suggestion that reform of land valuation methods at the viability stage may be on the cards. There may also be a wholesale review of CPOs, particularly to facilitate the development of stalled housing projects by implementing a new approach to compensation to discourage 'landbanking' and incentivise build out.
The pledges align with the new Mayor of London’s approach, who is focused on an increase in affordable housing in the City, claiming that current build rates in London represent a staggering underperformance in meeting targets. He promises an increase in transparency throughout the planning, valuation and viability process along with an impetus for growth to meet London’s needs.
The Conservatives have promised to transform the energy system by:
- investing in off shore wind farms (particularly in remote islands of Scotland) and withdrawing active support for onshore wind
- seizing the industrial opportunity that new technology presents
- actively supporting gas from shale extraction.
To facilitate this, the Conservatives propose to make changes to legislation to support the gas from shale industry, facilitating its growth by making exploratory drilling a permitted development right and speeding up the decision making process. In addition, a new Shale Environment Regulator will be introduced to assume the relevant functions of the Health and Safety Executive, The Environment Agency and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
However, progress on this direction of travel may well be influenced by in-principle differences in approach by Labour, who have pledged to ban gas from shale, achieve 60% zero-carbon or renewable sources by 2030 and actively support onshore wind and tidal lagoons. Labour proposals to take energy back into public ownership and to support the creation of publicly owned energy companies and co-operatives are unlikely to be achievable due to opposition however such objectives may influence how Labour vote on energy market proposals and prove much more influential at a time of very narrow majority.