Dominic Cummings and Jack Airey, two of Boris Johnson’s key advisers, have made no secret of their disdain for the UK’s planning system. It has been widely trailed that some far-reaching reforms are in the pipeline, with a planning policy paper expected to be published at some point this month.
On the 30 June, Boris Johnson’s ‘Build Build Build’ speech set out the Government’s aspirations for economic recovery from COVID-19. Johnson outlined that we will “build back better, build back greener, build back faster”. Also, that the Government’s investment across a variety of sectors will be underpinned by “the most radical reforms of our planning system since the end of the second world war”.
However, if the measures set out by Government are a taste of what is to come, the reforms to the planning system may be less radical than initially expected.
Here are nine key new announcements:
The announcements continue the emphasis on brownfield development: new infrastructure and regeneration funding should help to unlock some of those more difficult urban sites and lessen the pressure on greenfield sites – a vote winner in Conservative constituencies. Further funding for small housebuilders and affordable housebuilders is to be welcomed as a way of continuing to diversify the housing sector and increase building rates. The town centre measures aim to address the much discussed ‘decline of the High Street’, allowing for easier conversion from one business use to another, as well as easier conversion to homes. Johnson’s desire – or promise? – to ‘scythe through red tape’ is a clear recognition of the need for planning applications to be resolved swiftly, free from unnecessary delays.
As ever, the devil will be in the detail. Draft permitted development legislation allowing for upwards extensions, for instance, states that the right is applicable only to an existing detached block of flats over 3m tall, if it is not within the curtilage of a listed building or in a Conservation Area. The extension can be no higher than 7m and should not take the total building height over 30m. Prior approval is still needed, where design, amenity and loss of light are all factors that local authorities can take into account. Whether this is something that many developers will be able to take advantage of (particularly in our historic cities such as Oxford and Cambridge and part of London) remains to be seen.
We will have to wait until September for the changes to use classes and permitted development to come into effect. Meanwhile the new planning policy paper is expected this month, which should flesh out some of these proposals as well as perhaps making more far-reaching changes to the planning system.
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