Perhaps following on from an earlier theme that planning is the enemy of enterprise, the government has announced a new set of measures to help “kickstart the economy” which also seem to give planners a bit of a kicking.
The package includes:
- giving developers the right to drop ‘costly’ section 106 affordable housing requirements if they can prove that this makes the development commercially unviable
- guaranteeing up to £40 billion worth of major infrastructure projects and up to £10 billion of new homes, and guaranteeing the debt of housing associations and private sector developers
- an extra £300 million to build up to 15,000 affordable homes and to bring 5,000 empty homes back into use
- an additional 5,000 homes for rent at market rates
- a £280 million extension of the recently introduced First Buy scheme to assist first time house buyers
- a time limited [3year] relaxation of permitted development rights to extend residential and commercial properties without the need to seek planning consent
- a threat to put poor performing local planning authorities into what the government calls ‘special measures’ transferring their planning decision responsibilities to the Planning Inspectorate (PINS)
- thousands of big commercial and residential applications to be directed to a major infrastructure fast track procedure
Section 106 obligations are the requirements placed on a developer when they receive planning permission to fund an element of affordable housing, or a financial contribution towards education facilities or anything else the planning authority deems appropriate.
The government argues that with a weak economy these obligations are making development commercially unviable, and blocking developers from building homes that already have planning permission but have stalled.
The package announced by the government appears to indicate developers can appeal to PINS, who will be instructed to assess how many affordable homes need to be dropped from Section 106 obligations for the development to become viable. Legislation to enable this will be effective from early next year.
The plan also tries to free-up a boom in residential extensions. Currently, planning permission is not required for single-storey extensions that are 3 metres for semi-detached houses and 4 metres for detached houses. The new measures propose doubling these extensions for the next three years only to 6 and 8 metres respectively or up to a maximum of half of the existing back garden. There are also changes to retail and industrial permitted development rights and a commitment to introduce permitted development rights to enable change of use from commercial to residential use.
Harking back to previous attacks on the planning process, the worst-performing planning departments will be put into special measures which would allow applications to be decided by the PINS, if the local authority has a track record of “consistently poor performance in the speed or quality of its decisions”.
The government will also consult shortly on options to speed up planning appeals. It has instructed PINS to divert resources to prioritise ‘all major economic and housing-related appeals’ with immediate effect.
ECONOMIC PARTNERSHIP COMMENT
It is interesting to ponder whether this will result in a glut of extensions on the backs of houses and, if it does, will it result in a glut of neighbours incandescent with rage that their light and or other amenities have been compromised without appropriate consent from the planning authority [which, of course will no longer be needed]. It seems odd to encourage people to build on part of their gardens when it was actively outlawed in June 2010 [see earlier story].
Amongst planning professionals there is considerable consternation that the government has introduced these new policies without any consultation just six months after the mammoth national consultation on the National Planning Policy Framework [NPPF] [see earlier story].
The Prime Minister took a pop at planners in February [see earlier story] so perhaps his statement yesterday that “we need to get the planners off our backs” is unsurprising. Eric Pickles tried to play down the new package of measures denying that they are changes in planning policy but rather just changes on “procedural matters”.
Whether a change in policy or just procedure much of the detail is still hazy. For example it isn’t clear how the proposal to punish poor performing planning authorities by putting them into “special measures” and devolving power to a central inspection agency would work in reality.
Eric Pickles said, “It is only those local authorities that have been dragging their feet and being wholly unrealistic, operating in a kind of economy la-la land, that we will be dealing with”. But the criteria to trigger being “dealt with” are unknown. Similarly it isn’t clear if laggard authorities will be offered any kind of support to help them improve before they are “dealt with”.
To an extent this package has been introduced to complement the Montague Plan published in August and designed to boost the construction industry, especially house building which has declined precipitously during the recession. But the Local Government Association [LGA] has just published figures to show consent already exists for 400,000 new homes that have not been completed or are stalled. This might tend to suggest that it isn’t planning that is the barrier.
It is also worth asking what planners actually do. They are responsible for ensuring developments comply with laws made by national government and that they also comply with Local Plans that national government demands each council prepares and publishes.
Under these circumstances it seems perverse to blame them for carrying out the government’s will. Most complaints from developers are not about the process but rather the pace at which it is completed but this has more much to do with resources in under-staffed planning departments. At one point, for instance Brighton had more planning applications than Manchester but a fraction of the staff. Given the reduction in public sector spending this isn’t likely to change.
The other glaring anomaly in the planning system can occur when an application gets to the planning committee made up of elected members. Politics is not supposed to play a part; but it too often does.
Read related items on:
National Planning Policy Framework
Local Government Association