A programme for Government?

We are now in the thick of campaign season, with the last week seeing a slew of manifesto launches that (in theory) has put some policy meat on the ideological bones of the parties that might comprise or influence the Government. Remarkable has combed through the pledges and platitudes to see what the contenders have to say about planning and development.

We've previously looked at the commitments on housing (which it's safe to say are fairly ambitious), so this time we've delved beyond the headline numbers to see how parties envisage meeting those targets. This is one area where the surge in SNP support in Scotland is less relevant: with planning a devolved matter, any co-operation between Labour and the SNP would likely see Labour planning policies enacted.

The Conservatives focus on extending their measures to help buyers and on encouraging the building of homes for first-time buyers. Labour want to implement the recommendations of last year's Lyons Review, which proposed streamlining the planning process as well as a raft of new powers to encourage housebuilding. The Liberal Democrats have an idea with the ambition to match their 300,000-houses-a-year target: they want Government agencies to commission new houses directly where the market is not providing them.

Though the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) does not get a lot of love from the minor parties – both UKIP and the Greens would like to see it abolished – that is unlikely to be a deal-breaker for them in post-election negotiations. The NPPF seems basically safe, with Labour apparently content to leave the Coalition planning framework in place.

The principle of brownfield developments is universally popular, and the next Government will surely encourage it. The Conservatives propose creating Housing Zones to facilitate brownfield housing developments, requiring local authorities to create lists of suitable brownfield sites, and want 90% to have planning permission for housing by 2020. The Liberal Democrats want the Homes & Communities Agency to have targets for developing unused public-sector land. The Labour-endorsed Lyons Review recommended writing a brownfield-first development policy into the NPPF.

Garden Cities are also very trendy among manifesto writers, though with subtle shifts in emphasis according to their political stripe. The Conservatives are keen on 'locally led Garden Cities and towns in places where communities want them', Labour promises 'a new generation of Garden Cities' while the Liberal Democrats go for the very specific 'at least ten new Garden Cities in England' including 'up to five major new settlements along a Garden Cities Railway between Oxford and Cambridge.' Look out for the next Welwyn Garden City in a green field near you come 2020!

Several parties promote the idea of some form of Community Right to Appeal in the planning system. The Liberal Democrats and Greens want to establish this right where permissions contravene an extant or emerging Local Plan, while UKIP want local communities to be able to overturn large-scale developments by referendum. If these kind of policies find their way into law, they could slow down some of the housing developments the parties claim to be so keen to promote, as could restricting developers' appeals against planning decisions – something that the Liberal Democrats and Greens propose.

All three main parties are also committed to some form of devolution in England – something that could have a significant impact on planning or none at all, depending on the vision enacted. The Conservatives want to give 'far-reaching powers over economic development… to large cities which choose to have elected mayors', along the model proposed in Manchester, where the mayor will have strategic planning powers. Labour promise to devolve £30 billion of funding to "city and county regions" along with new powers in areas including housing and economic development, with local Public Accounts Committees to keep an eye on things. The Liberal Democrats pledge 'Devolution on Demand' as local areas see fit. The cross-party commitment to devolution will mean planners and developers need to keep a close eye on local politics: planning powers and purse strings could be a lot closer to home within a few years.

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