Alongside the Cabinet reshuffle there have been significant announcements on initiatives to accelerate growth within the economy at large and with a particular focus on the housing sector. The most significant of these initiatives are from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), which this week set out the following proposals:
- A £200 million enabling fund to bring forward delivery of rented homes on housing sites
- £10bn debt guarantee scheme covering affordable and private rented homes for which DCLG are inviting applicants from tomorrow
- Additional funding to bring 5,000 more empty homes back into use
- Increase take-up of the NewBuy scheme and greater participation by builders and lenders
- Additional £280 million (with matching contribution from house-builders) to extend FirstBuy scheme to March 2014 (helping 16,500 additional first time buyers)
- Concerted efforts by Government to unblock large locally supported residential development sites (building on their work in partnership with local authorities and agencies at Ebbsfleet)
- Accelerated release of surplus public sector land
- Proposed legislation to allow the Planning Inspectorate to determine applications made to local planning authorities, which have a poor track record on speed and quality of decisions
- More reporting on local authority planning performance
- Encourage increased use of planning performance agreements
- Increased powers of inspectors to award costs on appeals where proper planning application process not followed
- Speeding up planning appeals including a new fast-track system for small commercial appeals and immediate priority given to speeding up major economic and housing related appeals
- An extension of one year to the ability to renew planning permissions
- Review of thresholds for existing categories of Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects, which go through a different central planning process (via the Planning Inspectorate); the aim of this will be to extend the benefits of this system to more development. In addition, consideration is to be given to extending this system to cover significant commercial and business development (earlier announcements suggest this could include large scale housing sites).
- Mediation for S106 renegotiations (already announced) plus new legislation effective early 2013 to allow developers of sites which are unviable because of the number of affordable homes, to appeal to the Planning Inspectorate for variation of S106s for a three year window to reflect current economic circumstances; consultation is already running on another initiative to allow formal applications to local authorities to vary unviable S106s where they were entered into before April 2010.
- Rationalising local and national information requirements for planning applications.
- Encouragement to Councils to review green belt designations to make the best use of previously developed land whilst maintaining the openness of the green belt, in line with the National Planning Policy Framework.
- Imminent consultation on extending permitted development rights for extensions to homes and business premises in non-protected areas for a three-year period.
- New permitted development rights to be introduced to enable change of use from commercial to residential purposes, with the ability of local authorities to seek local exemptions where there could be an adverse economic impact (e.g. City of London, Westminster).
A number of the initiatives will require new primary or secondary legislation and will take time to implement.
Clients seeking to unlock existing housing permissions where viability is an issue may, however, be able to take early steps to open up negotiations with the relevant planning authority to reduce section 106 burdens in anticipation of the changes to the regime being introduced over coming months.
Also, clients with permissions which are due to expire in the near future may want to examine the scope for extending those permissions by a further 12 months. Those measures are sufficiently well advanced to assist now.
Details of the other measures will become apparent in the next few weeks and we will be issuing further briefings.