Planning overhaul will target housing delivery blocks

Measures to release sites for development, set a deadline for local plans and review the methodology for assessing housing need will be included in the Government’s Planning White Paper, due in the coming weeks.

The white paper, which was trailed in Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s budget for 2020-2025 on Wednesday, is the latest attempt to overhaul complex national planning policy and bring forward appropriate development across the UK.

The revision to the planning system – described by the government as its “most ambitious changes to date” – are to be underpinned by an additional £10.9bn of funding set out in the Budget yesterday, aimed at helping to regenerate brownfield land, invest in new infrastructure and provide more, and better, homes.

In a preliminary paper, Planning for the Future, published today, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government says the white paper will contain around 30 changes, including:

  • Encouraging residential development on brownfield land through the investment of £400m announced in Wednesday’s budget; launching a national brownfield map to promote development opportunities, and promoting housebuilding on high streets and above railway stations
  • Reviewing the national formula for assessing housing need, which critics claim is illogical at present and often penalises areas of low growth and demand
  • Setting a deadline of December 2023 for local authorities to have their local plans in place, otherwise the Government will intervene
  • Introducing measures to increase transparency in land ownership
  • Drawing up a five-year strategy to deliver affordable homes, supported by the expansion of the Affordable Homes Programme to £12.2bn by 2025, as outlined in the Budget yesterday
  • Reforming planning fees to ensure the system is properly resourced. Council planning departments were among the services hardest hit by budget cuts in recent years, causing delays in decision making

Dan Mitchell, partner at consultancy Barton Willmore in Manchester, said: “We welcome the forthcoming changes, which on the face of it are very ambitious. It is particularly helpful for Government to recognise that the UK planning system has been under-resourced for decades and local authorities have faced huge budget cuts.

“Planning departments have faced the brunt of that and I hope that the White Paper seeks to ensure that the system is properly resourced.

“We also welcome the focus on supporting building and the delivery of brownfield land, including the opportunities presented by our high streets. Measures to support the delivery of what are often complex sites will be essential.

“In parallel, we must ensure that the local plans can provide enough land opportunities for the delivery of new homes and ensure that we build a range of homes for the wider demographic, including both houses and apartments.

“We will look forward to reading the details in the spring, but this is an exciting opportunity to bring forward a range of improvements to the current system.”

Dan Mitchell: “On the face of it, the changes are ambitious.”

Rob Loughenbury, spokesman for the Housing the Powerhouse coalition of North West-based housebuilders and land promoters, added:

“Housing the Powerhouse welcomes the decision by the Secretary of State to review the standardised methodology for assessing local housing need. We support the need for a single methodology to increase certainty in the planning system, but the one currently in place disadvantages the North by reducing the assessed need in the North by around 25%.

“A new methodology needs to be found that supports housebuilding across the country and also the Government agenda to level-up the North and build a Northern Powerhouse.”

In the meantime, the coalition “strongly encourages” the Greater Manchester Combined Authority to “stick to its timetable for submitting the [much delayed] Greater Manchester Spatial Framework to Government by the end of 2020, as investment for housing and regeneration will be linked to progress with the spatial plan, but also so we can get on with building more homes for Greater Manchester.”

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