Planning Reforms 2015

Last week the Government revealed its housing and planning proposals which aim to increase the number of houses being built and combat the ever increasing demand for new housing, and in particular, providing housing that people can afford to buy.

The key reforms in the Government's publication "Fixing the Foundations: Creating a More Prosperous Nation" are:

Local Plans

The Government will be taking further action before the summer recess to ensure that Local Authorities produce Local Plans, through the implementation of a set deadline and league tables.  Where a Local Authority fails to meet the deadline, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government will intervene and prepare the Local Plan in the Local Authority's place, in consultation with local people. 

Further, the Government proposes to speed up the process of creating and amending a Local Plan so that Local Plans can respond to the needs of the local people.

These proposals will be a relief to developers, land-owners and other interested parties who have been exacerbated by a Local Authority's failure to implement a Local Plan or update their Local Plan when needed.  However, the exact deadline is yet to be announced and therefore whether these proposals will in fact force local authorities to create and adopt a Local Plan is yet to be seen.

Brownfield Land

One of the most controversial reforms is the proposal to create a "zonal" system.  Draft legislation is proposed which will grant automatic planning permission, subject to the Local Authority's approval of certain matters, on brownfield sites identified on a statutory register as suitable for housing.  Whilst developers will see this as an important step in the right direction, there is a risk that local people could lose their ability to "get involved" and comment on the development of brownfield sites, as the consultation will take place when the site is put on the register and few local people will be aware of their right to make comments at this stage.  This could therefore lead to less discussion and consideration of material issues, which would otherwise come to light during the planning application process.

The Government is also considering whether to reform the compulsory purchase regime, in order to increase the powers of a Local Authority, and proposals will be unveiled this Autumn. 

Speeding up Planning Decisions

The Government has set out a number of mechanisms which aim to speed up the planning process and these include:

  1. Implementing legislation which will put Local Authorities at risk of designation of they fail to make 50% or less decisions, and specifically minor applications, on time;
  2.   Create a fast-track certificate process for minor applications to establish the principle of development; and
  3. Create a dispute resolution process for 106 agreements.

None of these proposals tackle the issues of why Local Authorities are failing to make decisions on time and therefore whether these proposals will have an impact is questionable.

Starter Homes

The Government has set a target of building 200,000 starter homes by 2020, with a 20% discount for first time buyers under a certain age.

In order to meet this target the Government propose to:

  1. Require Local Authorities to plan for the delivery of starter homes;
  2. Allow communities to allocate land for starter homes (including through neighbourhood plans);
  3. Create proposals for sites of a specified size to include a proportion of starter homes;
  4. Implement regulations so that starter homes will be exempt from the Community Infrastructure Levy ("CIL").

These proposals could potentially affect the viability of certain developments, where developers also have to provide a proportion of affordable housing, and it will be interesting to see what proposals the Government brings forward and how starter homes and affordable housing sit alongside each other.  There is a danger that less affordable housing may be built as a result of the proposals.

Further, the proposals could lead to issues with the provision of infrastructure for development sites as the Local Authority may not raise enough money through CIL for the infrastructure needed for the development where a starter homes and/or affordable housing exemption applies.  This could lead to an increase in s106 agreements to deal with site specific infrastructure. 

To conclude, the Government has unveiled numerous proposals which aim to reform the planning system and increase the number of homes being built.  However, there is a danger that some of these proposals may potentially affect the viability of certain developments and lead to less transparency in the planning application process.

Posted on: 22/07/2015

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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