Build, build, build: Johnson reveals 'radical' new planning reforms

Property Reporter
30th June 2020
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The Prime Minister has announced a raft of new measures to help the UK on the road to recovery following Covid-19, including the construction of thousands of new homes and "the most radical reforms to our planning system since the Second World War".

Speaking in the West Midlands, Mr Johnson outlined that the 'new deal' will tackle the chronic failure of Britain to build enough homes and address the intergenerational injustice younger generations have experienced accessing the property ladder.

New regulations will give greater freedom for buildings and land in town centres to change use without planning permission and create new homes from the regeneration of vacant and redundant buildings.

The new rules will see existing commercial properties, including newly vacant shops, be able to be converted into residential housing more easily.

Additionally, builders will no longer need a normal planning application to demolish and rebuild vacant and redundant residential and commercial buildings if they are rebuilt as homes.

Property owners will also be able to build additional space above their properties via a fast track approval process, subject to neighbour consultation.

The government also confirmed its £12bn affordable homes programme will go ahead, supporting up to 180,000 new affordable homes for ownership and rent over the next eight years - including a 1,500 unit pilot of ‘First Homes’: houses that will be sold to first time buyers at a 30% discount which will remain in perpetuity, keeping them affordable for generations of families to own.

As you would expect, the industry was quick to react. Here's what they're saying:

Jeremy Leaf, north London estate agent and a former RICS residential chairman, says: "While, of course, the announcement of more building is very welcome we want to see more specifics, not just on desperately-needed affordable housing projects but a strict timetable for delivery, especially of sites with planning.

"So many of the larger schemes, in particular, are mired in planning or lending red tape so certainly the concentration on infrastructure will help to release many from that log jam by improving connectivity."

Nick Sanderson, Audley Group CEO, commented. “It’s not the first time the Prime Minister has promised radical housing and planning reform. He’s told us he will build better, build greener, build faster. But those are empty promises if he doesn’t build smarter.

“To renew the focus on building more homes and helping first-time buyers is wrong. It was wrong before and is wrong again now. We have enough houses, but they are under-occupied: a report from CASS Business School this month found that we will have 20 million surplus bedrooms in this country by 2040, many in houses owned by people who would like to downsize. It’s abundantly clear then that the focus should be on specialist housing where there is a severe under-supply.

“The devasting events of the past three months should have opened the government’s eyes to the need to tackle housing and social care change together, and not in silo. Care homes have been put through the wringer, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg. Unless the government works to facilitate the building of many more houses for people as they get older which have care attached, it’s continuing to bury its head in the sand. The ultimate and tragic cost of that oversight could be people’s lives. Giving older people appropriate living options that offer a range of services and support has never been more important.

"The government has a small window to make a real difference and improve the lives of the population, while simultaneously easing pressure on the health and social care system and stimulating the housing market. Now is time to use that window, and build smarter.”

Mark Elsey, infrastructure partner at law firm, Ashurst, said: "The announcement by the Prime Minister is clearly good news and infrastructure development will have a key role to play in helping the economy recover from the impact of Covid-19. The real challenge for projects of any size is the time it takes to develop them to the point where they are spreading more activity and work into the community.

"In that context, the key question is whether the Government can expedite the planning, development and approval processes to make sure the promised pipeline is delivered as soon as possible.

"It is no surprise to see the focus on education and connectivity as key planks to the Government's levelling up agenda. Whilst technology has and will continue to play an increasingly important role in communication, the government clearly recognises in a post-Covid-19 world that people will still want and need to move around and the ease with which people can meet, both for business and leisure, will still be a key factor in facilitating a more even society."

Kathryn Hampton, Senior expertise lawyer, said: "This is explosive news for the development industry! The Prime Minister has announced the slashing of planning red tape to get more homes and schools built and to save the high street. As always the devil will be in the detail.

"This major planning makeover and significant spend to get the country going again. The changes are due to come into force quickly to boost confidence and investment at this time of crisis, which shows the government's clear commitment to refuelling the economy.

"Limiting local authority input would be a major change, moving things closer to the US system of zoning, may be of concern to some. It's certainly radical reform, pushing the boundaries of permitted development rights.

"How will this work in practice? It can't be a planning free-for-all, but there's little point if we've just swapped one string of red tape for another. How much detail will the prior approval process require?

"When the replacement of old vacant buildings with new homes idea was first announced, there were concerns that it wouldn't make much difference in practice. Let's see what the Government has done about that."

Roger Tustain, Managing Director of Nexus Planning, said: “The difficulty with governmental attempts to overhaul the planning system is that with each major reform (the last being 2012 with the abolition of Regional Planning), thought rarely goes into the practical implications of delivering the system quickly. Major changes and new strategies will take time to plan if they're to be done properly – and this could lead to procrastination at a local level which impacts on housing delivery. The irony is that radical change to the planning system could in the short-medium term impact on delivering government housing growth objectives.

“Before we change the technical side of the system itself (again), it’d be better to focus on significantly enhancing public sector resourcing in strategic planning – ‘freeing the planner’ from minor/domestic applications, which accounts for a huge number of all applications and can get overly politicised. Local Authority Planning needs to be visionary and proactive at both political and officer level. At present, things tend to be far too reactive and under-resourced.”

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