Planned Changes to the Planning System

The Government has announced significant plans to change the planning system in the post-Covid era. The plan is a major effort to build more homes and get more people to own their own homes as well as giving a nod to protecting the rights of tenants and reducing homelessness. The anti-planning rhetoric of the Government is combined with some rather good changes that we are happy to see.

Below we outline the main changes planned and in some cases our attitude to them.

The key changes at a glance

Planning reforms

  • Introduce new permitted development rights for building upwards on existing buildings by summer 2020 – add up to two floors to your detached house – this is likely to result in quite unacceptable developments.
Maxing out on Permitted Development Rights.
  • Consult on potential permitted development rights to allow vacant buildings to be demolished and replaced with new homes without planning permission – an unnecessary change that will reduce the quality of the built environment with likely unintended consequences.
  • New support for community and self-build housing schemes, including support finding plots of land – a very minor element of the economy which will not make any significant impact on housing need. People who can afford to build their own home can afford to buy a pre-built home.
  • Support the Oxford-Cambridge arc by setting up a new spatial framework for the area, setting out where housing will be delivered up to 2050, and create four development corporations across the region (Bedford, St Neots/Sandy, Cambourne and Cambridge, which includes plans to explore the case for a New Town at Cambridge).
  • To accelerate new housing and infrastructure development. A helpful and sensible policy.
  • With early affect it will be permitted to convert vacant shops into residential units. It is claimed that this will help rescue our High Street. However the decision of the last Government to permit the conversion of offices to houses had some unexpected and unacceptable results, with the creation of the smallest housing units anywhere in Europe with conditions worse than the Victorian era. We had hoped that the lessons had been learned.
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Will we get more of this if planning permission isn’t required?

Housing Delivery Test

  • Review the formula for calculating local housing need to encourage more building in urban areas
  • Require all local authorities to have an up-to-date local plan by 2023 or government will intervene
  • Continue with plans to raise the Housing Delivery Test threshold to 75% in November 2020. This is the test of whether housing demand is being met by local authorities. However local authorities are not the main provider of housing and we are not clear what will be done to address the problem of large private house builders holding onto huge land banks.
  • Reform the New Homes Bonus to ensure local authorities that build more homes have access to greater funding.

Planning departments

  • Implement new planning fee structure to better resource planning authorities and link funding to improved performance. If this leads to Planning Departments being properly funded, we support this. The lack of funding for enforcement of planning rues is deplorable.
  • Provide automatic rebates of fees when planning applications are successful at appeal.
  • Expand the use of zoning tools to support development that is aimed at simplifying the process of granting planning permission for residential and commercial property. This approach is loaded with dangers for the environment and local community. Planning is there to protect us from unacceptable development.
  • Make it clearer who owns land by requiring greater transparency on land options – we support this initiative. Any actions which address the excessive land banking by house builders is to be welcomed.
  • Support local authorities to use compulsory purchase orders by introducing statutory timescales for decisions and ending the automatic right to public inquiry – we support this.

Homeownership

  • Continue with the proposed First Homes scheme, which offers eligible first-time buyers new homes at prices discounted by a third.The last scheme resulted in housing providers increasing the price of housing by the exact amount of the grant provided – meaning that the Government was subsidising house builders rather than first time buyers. It will be interesting to see if this problem is solved.
  • Form partnerships with developers and local authorities to be the frontrunners for delivering the first wave of new homes – good idea!

Design

  • Revise National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) to encourage good design and placemaking throughout the planning process – an excellent idea which we support.
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This is why we need a design guide! 
  • Respond to the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission and take forward recommendations calling for urban tree-planting and giving communities more influence over design – another great idea.
  • Implement a new National Design Code to allow residents of communities to have more influence over design. Allow local areas to produce their own design codes for new development – we support this approach.

Climate and sustainability

  • Review policy for building in areas at flood risk by assessing whether current NPPF protections are enough and whether further reform is needed – the development of housing in floor plains is a national disgrace. Hopefully this new approach will stop it for good!
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This is  what you get when you build in areas subject to flooding
  • Introduce Future Homes Standard in 2025, which will require up to 80% lower carbon emissions for new homes – a welcome step but not sufficient and too late.
  • Create a new net zero carbon housing development in Toton in the East Midlands through a development corporation.

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