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Government consultation on strengthening planning policy for brownfield development

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On 13 February 2024 the government published a consultation on its proposed approach to strengthening planning policies relating to brownfield development and reviewing the threshold for referral of applications to the Mayor of London.

The consultation is due to close on 26 March 2024.

The government affirms that sustainable development is at the heart of the planning system and that making the most effective use of brownfield land would support the provision of homes that the country needs. It would also be key to regenerating high streets and town centres as well as supporting economic growth and maximising the use of existing infrastructure.

Present national policy already provides strong support for development on previously developed land and makes clear that planning policies and decisions should give substantial weight to the value of using suitable brownfield land within settlements for homes.

In a speech on 19 December 2023, the Secretary of State set out the important role played by the country’s cities in boosting economic growth, driving forward urban regeneration and delivering on long-term housing ambitions. He also emphasised the critical role of London in providing the homes for those who wish to live and work in the capital. The Secretary of State duly commissioned a review of the London Plan to identify changes to policy that could speed up the delivery of homes in the capital with the principal recommendation in this review being a presumption in favour of brownfield development.

The government propose a change to national policy to make clear that when considering planning applications, local planning authorities should give significant weight to the benefits of delivering as many homes as possible, especially when this involves land that has been previously developed. Local planning authorities should also take a flexible approach in applying planning policies and guidance relating to the internal layout in these circumstances, where they would otherwise impact the most efficient use of a site. Nevertheless, national policy would expect new development would provide acceptable living standards. It is suggested that this change would only apply to policies and guidance related to internal layouts, and not external design or layout standards of development.

The presumption in favour of sustainable development is at the core of national planning policy, and is applied in specific circumstances, including the Housing Delivery Test, which assesses how well local authorities are delivering against their housing requirement. Currently, any local planning authority that scores below 75% in the Housing Delivery Test is subject to the presumption in favour of sustainable development.

The London Planning Review included a recommendation to introduce a specific presumption on brownfield land into the London Plan but the government is of the view that this should not be constrained to London alone; it should be to the 20 most populous towns and cities in England. In 2020 the urban uplift had been introduced to apply a 35% uplift to these 20 towns and cities. The Housing Delivery Test presently applies a sequential approach with authorities scoring below 95% required to produce an action plan, below 85% having to apply a buffer and those below 75% subject to the presumption. The government’s proposed change is to introduce an additional presumption trigger of 95% on previously developed land only, which would apply to the 19 local authorities and all London Boroughs subject to the urban uplift.

The government is also seeking views on whether the unit threshold that determines which applications for residential development are referred to the Mayor of London is set at the right level. The Mayor has powers to intervene in relation to planning applications of potential strategic importance either by directing the relevant borough to refuse the application or taking over and determining the application himself. The threshold is presently at 150 houses, flats or houses, but in some instances this is considered to be too low. The government wish to ensure this is set at the right level so as to add value to the process of determining applications for potential strategic importance (especially residential development) and avoid slowing down or disincentivising developments that could be determined by the London Borough. The consultation seeks views on whether 150 residential units is right or, if it isn’t, what a new threshold should be. Suggested options for the threshold are 300, 500, 750 or 1000 residential units.

This article is for general guidance only. It provides useful information in a concise form. Action should not be taken without obtaining specific legal advice.
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