Housing Supply: Osbourne outlines further planning reform in treasury paper ‘fixing the foundations’

Housing Supply: Osbourne outlines further planning reform in treasury paper ‘fixing the foundations’

On Friday 10 July the Chancellor George Osborne announced a number of further changes to the planning system aimed, as with previous proposals, at increasing the supply of housing. The proposals are set out in outline terms in chapter 9 of Treasury paper ‘Fixing the Foundations: creating a more Prosperous Nation‘.  The key elements of the proposals deal with both the release of land, and further trimming of the planning system. 

Local plans

In what will be welcome news and perhaps long overdue, further action is planned to incentivise (to put it positively) the production of up to date local plans.  Whilst some house builders have been making hay while the sun shines where there have been long delays in getting new policies in place, I suspect that most of the industry would welcome coherent and succinct local planning policies.  

League tables

The Government’s intention is to publish league tables setting out progress on providing a plan. For those that are lagging behind, the Government will intervene, even if it is not clear how.  The paper also sets out an intention to bring forward proposals to ‘significantly streamline the length and process of local plans‘ – but is light on detail. Again, this is likely to be welcomed on all sides, and cannot come soon enough for those planning authorities that are struggling to have their plans found sound by inspectors.    

Duty to cooperate

Interestingly, there is also a commitment to strengthen and improve the duty to cooperate.  The difficulty in meeting this duty has been a recurring theme in local plan examinations, and so new measures are understandable.  It is not clear however whether strengthening the guidance will have the desired impact, and equally is not clear whether real and genuine enforcement of the duty is achievable.  

Zonal system for brownfield land

The concept of giving preference in development terms to brownfield land is certainly not new.  However, clearly the Government is not satisfied with take up, as it proposes introducing a zonal system for brownfield land. Many other countries have a zonal planning system. This would mean that planning permission would automatically be granted, in principle, in relation to brownfield sites – subject to the approval of technical detail.  We may see here a further expansion of the prior approval process.  The level of technical detail, what would be covered, and how conditions and planning obligations would apply are yet to be explained. However, there will have to be a real incentive to get over the preference for greenfield development, and this may not be enough to offset the high clean-up costs that sometimes beset brownfield sites.

Compulsory purchase reforms

By way of headline points, note also the commitment to additional compulsory purchase reforms to further modernise the system. No detail is given other than that proposals will be announced in the autumn.  Again, reforms will be welcome by those having to grapple with the current form process, but what is really needed is a wholesale overhaul of the legislation governing compulsory purchase which is spread throughout numerous statutes and regulations.  

Planning process improvements

In a section entitled ‘Improving the Planning Process‘ the Government repeats its refrain that it wants decisions made on time.  It therefore proposes that:

  • It will legislate to allow major infrastructure projects with elements of housing to go through the nationally significant infrastructure (NSIP) regime.
  • It will ‘tighten’ the planning performance regime so local authorities making 50% or fewer decisions on time are at risk of designation, and it will extend the performance regime to minor applications.
  • It will introduce a fast track certificate process for establishing the principle of development for minor development proposals and tighten the planning guarantee, again for minor applications.
  • It will repeat the target to reduce net regulation on house builders although perhaps disappointingly for some this largely seems to involve stepping back from seeking carbon reductions and energy efficiency.
  • It will also introduce a dispute resolution mechanism for section 106 agreements (in addition to the previous proposals to appoint section 106 mediators?). 

Also included in the chapter are suggestions regarding the devolution of more power, starter homes, right-to-buy and changes to tax relief on buy-to-let schemes.

For further information on these changes to the planning system or other planning and development issues, please contact David Richardson, Head of Planning on 01392 687540 / 07714 333443 or david.richardson@michelmores.com