In Planning for Housing, published in Real Estate. Reconsidered last month, we took a look at ongoing Government initiatives designed to tackle the housing crisis, and also the problems faced by high streets and town centres. Throughout we noted that whether and how various initiatives would be progressed depended on the result of the General Election. Now that we have a Conservative majority in Parliament, and understand the new Government’s priorities through their election manifesto (see our blog post of 27 November 2019) and the Queen’s Speech of 19 December 2019 (and the accompanying Background Briefing Notes), we have a clearer idea of what to expect in planning over the coming months. On the whole, it seems to be a case of progressing with initiatives already announced (although not necessarily widely publicised) with continued focus on housing, the environment and thriving centres. Here is a brief overview:

Planning reform

The Government has confirmed its continued intention to publish a Planning Green Paper, with the aim of making the planning process “clearer, more accessible and more certain for all users … also address[ing] resourcing and performance in Planning Departments”. Arguably a familiar objective for successive administrations, achieving these goals has proved difficult. There is relatively little more information on the detail of what the Green Paper will contain, although it may include CPO reform. We expect publication in the next few months.

Environment Bill

In our blog post of 11 November 2019 we reported on the Environment Bill 2019-2020, abandoned following the dissolution of Parliament prior to the General Election. The Government has confirmed that the Bill will be reintroduced largely in similar terms, including provisions on mandatory biodiversity net gain (see Mandatory Biodiversity Net Gain in Real Estate. Reconsidered), tightened air quality controls and the establishment of the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP). With environmental protection a high priority for the Government, this should be expected soon.

Housing

Housing need, affordable housing, Starter Homes and “First Homes”

Continuing the drive of previous governments towards increasing housing supply, the Government is committed to building at least a million new homes this Parliament with hundreds of thousands of new homes promised through renewal of the Affordable Homes Programme.

The previous Government promised that regulations to implement the statutory framework for Starter Homes introduced by the Housing and Planning Act 2016 would be introduced in 2019, and that regulations to exempt Starter Homes from the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) would be laid before Parliament. Recent announcements have been silent on whether the Government plans to continue with this, although we can expect that they will. However, the Government has announced another affordable homes initiative, “First Homes”, on which they will consult shortly. First Homes is intended to “provide homes for local people and key workers at a discount of at least 30 per cent”, funded by developers and secured through a covenant with the discount secured for perpetuity. The Government also intends to introduce “a new, reformed Shared Ownership model” to help shared owners buy more, and eventually all, of their property.

Also worth mentioning is that the Housing Delivery Test for November 2019 is still awaited, as is a promised review of the standard method for calculating housing need. These were due before the end of last year, so should be expected soon.

Permitted development and Future Homes Standard

Towards the end of 2019, the previous Government confirmed that it intended to introduce permitted development (PD) rights enabling upwards extensions of certain buildings in existing commercial and residential use to deliver new homes, and to allow the demolition of commercial buildings for rebuilding as residential units. There seems to be no reason not to expect secondary legislation implementing this to be published for consultation soon, in which case the promised review of residential PD rights “in respect of the quality standard of homes delivered”, announced in March 2019 in response to valid concerns regarding the design and quality of housing delivered pursuant to PD rights, may also be delivered.

To deal with concerns over PD rights the previous Government also intended to “develop a ‘Future Homes Standard’ for all new homes with a view, subject to consultation, to introducing the standard by 2025”. We wait to see whether this will be delivered.

Diversification guidance

Alongside the 2019 Spring Statement the previous Government promised additional planning guidance to encourage the diversification of large sites to encourage quicker build out rates, in response to findings of the Independent Review of Build Out Rates led by Oliver Letwin. It is not yet clear whether the current Government intends to pursue this.

Design

The final report of the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission (BBBBC) was due to be published last month (see our blog post of 12 July 2019 on the BBBBC interim report). The previous Government committed to consult on a new “National Model Design Code” which would take the final report into account. We can probably still expect this consultation once the report is published.

Infrastructure

The Government has announced a £10bn Single Housing Infrastructure Fund to provide the infrastructure necessary to support residential development, building on previous infrastructure funding. Bearing in mind the Government’s manifesto commitment that infrastructure must be delivered ahead of new housing developments being occupied, which could impact viability, it will be interesting to see more detail on how this will be implemented.

Also, in its election manifesto the Conservative Party promised a £100 billion investment into infrastructure such as roads and rail, Northern Powerhouse Rail and the restoration of many of the Beeching lines. The Government has confirmed that it will publish the National Infrastructure Strategy (NIS) alongside the Spring Budget on 11 March 2020, together with its long overdue response to the National Infrastructure Commission’s National Infrastructure Assessment (due by July 2019), and that legislation to implement the NIS will be introduced “in due course”.

Devolution

The Conservative election manifesto proposed an English Devolution White Paper in 2020. Interestingly, this was not mentioned in the Queen’s Speech or the Background Briefing Notes. However, in a speech to the Local Government Association on 7 January 2020, Local Government Minister Luke Hall confirmed that the Government will “publish an ‘English devolution white paper’, aiming for full devolution, so that every part of the country has the power to shape its own future”. We wait to see when this will be brought forward and what “full devolution” will mean in practice. How the combination of devolution and infrastructure investment may impact development on a regional basis is worthy of further consideration.

Conclusion

All in all, rather than ringing in change the new Government seems to be on track to continue progress with the aims and initiatives of preceding administrations, with the exception perhaps of English devolution which has the potential to see a significant shift of influence from central to local government. It will be interesting to see how the various initiatives play out, and whether they bring the desired results.