17.20 Gary Halman, partner at Manchester based HOW Planning, said: “Although we’ll need to see the detail, this sounds like a really positive step in enabling development which has stalled for viability reasons to get back on track. Often affordable housing is the biggest cost in a section 106 planing agreement, but local authorities have been reluctant to accept that levels originally agreed when permission was granted may not now be deliverable. This sends a clear message that getting new homes built is the top priority, even if it means fewer affordable homes – though extra money from government is being put forward to compensate.
“It’s also good news that major residential and commercial schemes are to be given a higher priority and fast tracked through planning. That doesn’t mean they will be subject to any less scrutiny, but we must ensure big schemes that can deliver homes and new jobs are fast tracked and aren’t simply stuck in the system . Developers will welcome this initiative.”
17.12 Communities secretary Eric Pickles has been speaking about the planning reforms this afternoon in the House of Commons. When questioned by Clive Betts, the chair of the communities and local government select committee, on how it can be localist to transfer planning decisions from local authorities to the Planning Inspectorate, Pickles responded: “There might be a degree of muscular localism about it.”
Pickles also gave a little more detail about the government’s plans to relax planning rules to allow homeowners to build much bigger extensions without planning permission than they can at present. Pickles said that the existing policy on permitted development rights is three metres for houses. The change would extend it to roughly six metres, provided it does not extend beyond half the garden, the communities secretary explained
“Nobody will be able to build beyond halfway up their garden as a maximum and we will not be building enormously into the sky,” Pickles said. “We will not be building a big extension on Dove cottage in Grasmere.”
Also speaking in the debate, shadow communities secretary Hilary Benn said that it is the chancellor’s “failed economic plan” rather than the planning system that is preventing new homes from being built. Benn said: “Having completed the biggest change in planning policy for a generation earlier this year and trumpeted its success, the Secretary of State, in an extraordinary spectacle, has stood up before the House and, in effect, told us that his planning system is not fit for purpose.”
16.49 Michael Gallimore, head of planning at law firm Hogan Lovells, said: “The proposal to bring large housing schemes within the decision making regime for major infrastructure could certainly speed up decisions on those projects. However it is difficult to align this initiative with the Government’s localism mantra. The suggestion that the Planning Inspectorate will be able to ‘set aside’ existing Section 106 agreements in favour of a new agreement with fewer affordable homes gives rise to some interesting issues in circumstances where Section 106 agreements are contractually binding as between developer and local planning authority.”
Claire Dutch, partner at Hogan Lovells, adds: “It will be interesting to see how many developers apply to the Planning Inspectorate to seek a reduction in affordable housing and whether the Planning Inspectorate will be resourced sufficiently to cope with its extended role”.
16.45 Afternoon summary
- The government is to legislate to allow applications to be decided by the Planning Inspectorate, if the local authority has a track record of consistently poor performance in the speed or quality of its decisions
- The Planning Inspectorate has been instructed with immediate effect to divert resources to prioritise all major economic and housing related appeals
- The government says intends to “review the thresholds for some categories” in the nationally significant infrastructure projects regime, and also to “bring new categories of commercial and business development into the regime”. Special parliamentary procedures which apply to major infrastructure will be amended to ensure that they are fit for purpose
- The government has unveiled plans to relax planning rules for a three-year period allow allow homeowners and businesses to build much bigger extensions without planning permission than they can at present
- Councils which review their green belts will be given preferential treatment in their local plan examinations
- Recently-abandoned proposals to allow buildings to be switched from office to residential use without the need for planning permission have been revived
- The government will legislate to allow any developer of sites which are unviable because of the number of affordable homes to appeal with immediate effect. Under the plans, the Planning Inspectorate will be instructed to assess how many affordable homes would need to be removed from the section 106 agreement for the site to become viable. It would then set aside the section 106 agreement for a three-year period.
16.41 Building society Nationwide has just issued a release saying that adding an extension or a loft conversion to your home could increase its value by almost a quarter. Tracie Pearce, head of mortgages at Nationwide, explains: “The Government’s announcement today will no doubt be welcome news for homeowners who are attracted to the idea of improving their property by adding both space and value rather than face the extra costs and expense of moving to somewhere bigger.”
15.54 Stuart Andrews, head of planning at law firm Eversheds, welcomes plans to relax rules to allow homeowners and businesses to build much bigger extensions without planning permission than they can at present. He says: “As a planning officer some 20 years ago it was the mainstay of my job to ‘rubber-stamp’ planning applications for uncontroversial and innocuous home and business extensions.
“The permitted rights for most home and business extensions were drafted in response to building pressure in the 1950s and 60s. They are now outdated and fail to recognise that most of us are very careful in what we do to our property.
“There is huge scope for reform and relaxation of the current planning rules. As such, these reforms should be welcomed.”
On the plans to encourage local authorities to review green belt areas, Andrews said: “It is a common misconception that all green belt land is green and pleasant. You only have to stop on the M25 or any other road leading into a major city in the UK to see that it contains swathes of despoiled and disfunctional land. Indeed, it would be surprising to find that land protected some 60 years ago still meets its original function and purpose.
“The tricky issue is how you assess and determine which areas of green belt are less valuable than any another, particularly in the absence of a regional strategy or a coordinated local planning process. These things also take time, as the government know after nearly two years trying to remove regional plans.”
15.49 Marnix Elsenaar, partner and head of planning at law firm Addleshaw Goddard, says it “seems pretty clear that localism is out of favour”. Elsenaar says: “The emphasis is now on getting planning permission granted with local planning authorities being by-passed if they are not cooperative. We expect to see more applications being determined by the Planning Inspectorate through a streamlined appeals process. Commercial and affordable housing projects will for the first time be included in ‘nationally significant projects’ where the application goes straight to the Inspectorate. Affordable housing is being sacrificed to improve the viability of schemes; for private rented accommodation, no affordable housing will be required at all. If these proposals don’t send a clear signal to planning authorities to start being more pro-development and proactive, then nothing will.”
15.42 Charity Friends of the Earth has issued a strongly worded press statement, saying that the changes “attack the core of a fair and democratic planning system”.
Head of campaigns, Andrew Pendleton, said: “Local people and the environment will be forced to pay the price for these desperate planning reforms, which are being introduced to try and mask the Government’s failure to dig us out of the economic slump.
“David Cameron promised to champion localism, but these proposals will allow developers to bypass councils, limit the ability of local people to have their say on developments in their area and create a catalyst for disputes between neighbours.”
15.21 One interesting passage in today’s written ministerial statement suggests that councils which review their green belts will be given preferential treatment in their local plan examinations. The statement says: “Where green belt is considered in reviewing or drawing up local plans, we will support councils to move quickly through the process by prioritising their local plan examinations.”
Roger Hepher, head of planning and regeneration at real estate firm Savills, says that this is a “welcome signal to local authorities that they are encouraged by government to review their green belt boundaries”. He adds: “However, it is disappointing that the government has again failed to really grasp the big issue: that there are many pieces of green belt land that perform little in the way of green belt function, yet which could deliver housing in exactly the places where there is need and demand. Local authorities will generally fight shy of courting controversy by even contemplating changes to the green belt, so it needs clear government leadership and facilitation to get things to happen.”
15.17 RIBA immediate past president and chair of the RIBA planning group, Ruth Reed, said: “Whilst we await the finer details of the planning reforms announced by the government today, we are concerned at the potential for further relaxation of planning rules to undermine the principles set out in the National Planning Policy Framework and in particular, the emphasis on design quality as a pillar of sustainable development. Successful development-driven growth will be dependent on high quality development, creating places where people want to live and businesses want to invest.”
15.01 Nathaniel Lichfield & Partners managing director Jim Fennell said: “We’ve heard fighting talk from the PM today, and that has been followed up by some bold, wide ranging planning measures that could benefit developer interests across the board. Many of these measures will provoke controversy, but they show a Government willing to try anything to breathe life into the economy.”
14.56 The government’s pledge to free developers from burdensome section 106 deals would discredit the planning system and making local authorities more cautious about granting permission, the Local Government Association has said in a statement.
Chairman Sir Merrick Cockell said: “The perception that councils are asking for unaffordable ‘nice to have’ add-ons through these requirements is wrong. In addition to much needed affordable housing, section 106 agreements also fund roads and even new schools to support developments. There will be no economic growth if the people who live in the new houses haven’t got a road to get them to work, or if we don’t build social houses for low-paid workers.
“Councils are being flexible and, where appropriate, have already renegotiated some deals which would otherwise have stalled. Those local renegotiations are the best way of sorting out problems where developers are in difficulty. It will undermine local people’s confidence in the planning system if developers can go running to Whitehall at the first hint of trouble.
“There is also a danger that reopening agreements to fund vital local projects would endanger the current record levels of willingness to give consent to development for the future.”
14.15 Ian Trehearne, planning and environment consultant at law firm Berwin Leighton Paisner, said: “The sanctions on local authorities that are too slow or provide the wrong decisions for planning applications could well mirror the arrangements in London where the mayor can take over planning applications and become the planning authority.
“The mayoral arrangements have worked particularly well, and could be positively replicated across the country whereby the Planning Inspectorate would take over in place of a non-performing authority. This could help to speed up the process of planning applications and decrease the growing building backlog, and a few salutary examples would bring other authorities into line. The inspectorate would have to be as quick and effective in decision as the mayor.
“However, this would require new legislation so cannot be implemented straight away. It remains to be seen as to when the government will pass such legislation and we will see a potential rise in planning application performance.”
14.12 Lawyer Christopher Bowes, partner and Manchester head of planning at DLA Piper, asks whether the Planning Inspectorate will be able to cope with its new responsibilities. “The proposals look like great news for developers,” he says. “But it will be important that the Planning Inspectorate is given the resources to handle the ensuing rush of planning appeals: it will be no help to anyone if the development log-jam simply moves from local authorities to the Planning Inspectorate.
His colleague Howard Bassford welcomes the application of infrastructure procedures to major housing developments. “It removes an anomaly where essential housing faces a higher hurdle in getting planning permission than a power station,” he says.
13.54 Keith Hearn, senior planning director at consultancy CBRE, sees the government’s move free developers from burdensome affordable housing requirements as less radical than some had expected.
He writes: “On affordable housing requirements in connection with section 106 agreements, what has actually been introduced is a somewhat watered down version of that which had been trailed – a possible short term ‘holiday’ from any affordable housing requirement in connection with development schemes.
Instead, the government is proposing to strengthen an existing exhortation to local authorities to renegotiate section 106 agreements to reflect changing site viability. It proposes to do so by introducing legislation to allow developers to appeal schemes that they consider unviable [because of affordable housing requirement]. The Inspectorate will be instructed to undertake a viability assessment and will be given the power to set aside an existing agreement in favour of a new one with fewer affordable homes.
“The sub-plot here is a stick to try and persuade local authorities to get on and renegotiate such scheme themselves.
“While in principle this could expedite some schemes that are currently ether marginal or unviable, I do wonder if the inspectorate will have sufficient resources to undertake these viability assessments and take a view on what is an acceptable number of affordable home in a timely way.”
13.53 The Royal Town Planning Institute has just issued a statement on today’s announcement. Here it is in full:
“The RTPI has long argued for measures that help the planning system to deliver growth and sustainable development. Today’s Government announcements contain a number of proposals that aim to ‘create the conditions that support local economic growth and remove barriers that stop local businesses creating jobs and getting Britain building again’. Any new investment that helps with this is to be welcomed.
“We agree that timely and appropriate planning decisions are important. However, claims that planners are a barrier to growth are misplaced. DCLG statistics show that for at least a decade, over 80% of planning applications have been granted and around 90% of major commercial applications (which are critical for economic growth) are successful.
“Emerging evidence suggests that speed and quality of decision-making is improving in local authorities. Many small scale developments are already exempt from requiring planning permission. For those small scale developments that need permission, evidence shows that permission is granted in the vast majority of cases.
“Such evidence further supports our Planning Myths campaign and recent research by the LGA demonstrates that planners in both the public and private sector are facilitating rather than holding up growth”
13.51 The Local Government Association is yet to respond directly to the government’s new planning proposals. But it has today published new research which chairman Merrick Cockell says “should finally lay to rest the myth that the lack of new homes being built is the fault of the planning system”. It shows that, as of December last year, there were 400,000 new homes which have received planning permission but have not yet been completed, and that building had yet to start on more than half of the plots. “Even if planning departments did not receive another new home application for the next three years, there are sufficient approved developments ready to go to last until 2016 at the current rate of construction,” Cockell said.
13.19 The Planning Officers Society has issued a couple of statements responding to the government’s announcement, and its spokesman John Silvester has also been talking to Planning. Key points are:
On the extension of permitted development rights for householders and businesses: Silvester said: “We have serious concerns as to the considerable impact on neighbours’ amenities that doubling the permitted development rights could have. I wonder what MPs would say if their neighbours were now to build a big fat extension next to their houses? People expect local authorities to protect their amenities – such as not being overlooked, or not being unduly disturbed. It’s quite possible that all the household development that planning authorities have recently refused may come back as permitted development”.The society also voiced concern at the loss of planning fee income to local authorities, and the impact of the extended permitted development rights on planning jobs.
On whether planning is holding back development: The society points to the LGA’s survey, published this week, that shows that last year councils hit a ten year high in the percentage of applications approved for all types of development, with 87 per cent of applications receiving approval). “It is only the minority of development that is poor and therefore refused,” said POS president Malcolm Sharp. The society argues that it is the state of the economy that is holding back development and not planning, and supports financial measures to help bring forward much needed houses and jobs as long as they are in the right places with the right infrastructure.
On proposals to direct “thousands” of big commercial and residential applications to “a major infrastructure fast track” and, “where councils are poor”, allow developers to opt to have their decision taken by the Planning Inspectorate: Silvester said: “Slashing the local consideration of planning proposals is not compatible with the government’s stated aim of achieving locally determined sustainable development.” He added: “Taking away massive planning fee income by transferring major development to the inspectorate will not enable the poor performers to inject more resources into planning. Overall, these proposals could result in a string of unsustainable developments, which surely cannot be the government’s intentions”.
On proposals to remove affordable housing requirements on schemes if developers can prove they will make them unviable: Silvester said: “This flies in the face of adopted development plans and misses the point entirely as authorities already have the ability to negotiate workable solutions, taking into account the viability of the project.” POS president Malcolm Sharp said: “Communities need a good mix of housing if they are to be sustainable. Not all key workers who keep our society going by doing vital jobs in health, education, other local services or work in private industries can afford to buy or rent on the open market. The provision of affordable housing is already reduced and to reduce it now is storing up problems for the future.”
13.17 Responding to today’s announcements, Kate Henderson, chief executive of the Town and Country Planning Association, said: “The TCPA supports the Government’s ambitions to kick-start the economy and support housing delivery, however it must not be at the expense of those least able to afford decent homes. The Prime Minister has described “costly affordable housing” as a barrier to housing delivery, but it is well understood that social and affordable homes are essential to creating mixed, vibrant and resilient communities.
“The detail of how the planning inspectorate administers changes to affordable housing requirements of section 106 agreements will be very important in ensuring we strike the right balance between bringing housing supply forward and maintaining delivery of new affordable homes. We cannot risk creating a legacy of social division. Once these places are built the long term consequences of this division cannot be easily undone.”
12.16 If you’ve not seen it yet, communities secretary Eric Pickles’ written ministerial statement on today’s reforms is available here. Our story on the government’s move to revive abandoned plans to allow buildings to be switched from office to residential use without the need for planning permission can be read here.
11.43 There also looks to have been yet another U-turn on plans to allow the change of use from commercial to residential purposes, without the need for planning permission.
In July, the government confirmed that its flagship proposal to allow buildings to be switched from office to residential use without the need for planning permission would not be implemented.
But today’s written ministerial statement said: “We will introduce permitted development rights to enable change of use from commercial to residential purpose, while providing the opportunity for authorities to seek a local exemption where they believe there will be an adverse economic impact.”
11.33 According to the DCLG’s written ministerial statement, the government intends to “review the thresholds for some categories” in the nationally significant infrastructure projects regime, and also to “bring new categories of commercial and business development into the regime”.
The statement said that this would make it possible for such schemes, where they are of sufficient significance, to be “considered and determined at the national level”.
11.27 The government has instructed the Planning Inspectorate with immediate effect to divert resources to prioritise “all major economic and and housing-related appeals, to ensure applicants receive a response in the quickest possible time”.
11.19 The proposals unveiled today also include plans to relax planning rules for a three-year period in order to allow home owners and businesses to build larger extensions to their properties without the need for planning permission. This measure grabbed a lot of national newspaper coverage this morning and is likely to be controversial.
11.04 More detail on the special measures announcement. A written ministerial statement says that the government proposes to legislate to allow applications to be decided by the Planning Inspectorate, “if the local authority has a track record of consistently poor performance in the speed or quality of its decisions”.
10.13 Among the raft of announcements from Number 10 this morning is news that poorly performing planning teams face being placed into “special measures” if they fail to improve the speed and quality of their work.
10.09 Prime Minister David Cameron is today unveiling a package of reforms intended to kick-start the economy, including a set of announcements on planning. Cameron is reported to have said that the coalition is determined to cut through the bureaucracy that holds us back. “That starts with getting the planners off our backs,” he said. Follow developments on our rolling blog throughout the day.