The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has announced Government plans intended to encourage growth in the property arena, particularly house building. These measures include changes to planning legislation targeted at increasing development and, hopefully, growth in related industries.

Of interest to developers will be the introduction of legislation, to become effective in early 2013, which will allow a developer of a site considered by them to be unviable due to the affordable homes allocation requirement, to appeal for a variation of that allocation.  The planning inspector may amend the affordable homes allocation within a section 106 agreement for a three year period to reflect current economic circumstances.  Consultation is already taking place regarding formal applications to local authorities to vary section 106 agreements which were entered into before April 2010.  The Government is encouraging local planning authorities to take the opportunity to try to negotiate unviable elements of these agreements with developers in advance of the legislation coming into effect so developers may wish to take advantage of this.

The Government will also be looking at measures to reduce delays in the planning system, including proposals to legislate to allow applications to be decided by the planning inspector where a local authority has a track record of consistently poor performance in the speed or quality of its decisions. These will include requiring more transparent reporting of local authority performance on planning. The Government will be working with the Local Government Association to increase the use of Planning Performance Agreements for major schemes, designed to commit the applicants and the planning authorities to a clear timetable for determining proposals.

Measures intended to assist in dealing with low occupancy rates of existing commercial premises are also being considered such as the introduction of permitted development rights to enable change of use from commercial to residential purposes.

Other proposals intended to modify the planning system to encourage growth include the extension of permitted development rights to enable the construction of extensions to homes and businesses in non-protected areas for a three year period.   

The measures may encourage developers, businesses and homeowners to proceed with plans to develop sites currently considered economically unviable or to extend their existing properties, as the case may be, with a knock-on effect on the wider economy through increased activity in the construction and associated sectors.