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:

Reflecting the post-election promise to channel new investment in infrastructure, £100m is to be provided for 29 road and rail projects, with an additional £10m for unblocking the Manchester rail bottleneck. Further investment is promised for 4,000 zero carbon buses and new cycleways.
£14bn has been earmarked for primary and secondary education between now and 2023, with a ten-year school building programme, including £1bn for the first 50 schools. £1.5bn is also allocated for refurbishing further education buildings and colleges.
30,000 hectares of trees are to be planted every year. A £40m Green Recovery Challenge Fund will boost local conservation projects and deliver up to 5,000 jobs.
The £400m Brownfield Land Fund has been allocated to the West Midlands, Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire, Liverpool City Region, Sheffield City Region, North of Tyne and Tees Valley and will support around 24,000 homes.

£900m has been allocated for a range of ‘shovel ready’ local growth projects in England over the course of this year and next, to be invested in regeneration, transport and technology.

Investment in ‘left behind’ towns with £96m for the 101 towns with town deals. New academies, green buses and broadband investment is also promised.
Rules are expected to be relaxed to allow for changes between different kinds of businesses without the need for planning approval (although pubs, libraries, village shops and other types of uses ‘essential to the lifeblood of communities’ will not be included). Robert Jenrick confirmed on 2 July that there will be a new single “commercial, business and service” use class.
A wider range of commercial buildings will be allowed to change to residential use without the need for a planning application. 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 (both residential and commercial) will also be able to build additional space above their properties via a fast track approval process, subject to neighbour consultation.
A £12bn affordable homes programme will support 180,000 new homes over the next eight years and including 1,500 ‘First Homes’ for first time buyers. Small builders will also get financing assistance through a £450m Home Building Fund.

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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Nick is a chartered town planner and development surveyor with over 25 years' experience, gained across the residential, commercial, retail and industrial sectors for corporate, institutional and private landowners and developers. He has worked at CBRE and Drivers Jonas Deloitte. His professional experience is in three main sectors – Strategic Land / Projects, Retail / Mixed-Use and Central London. Strategic Projects / Land involves the promotion of land for commercial and residential development for landowners and developers. Retail / Mixed-Use schemes are a blend of edge of centre and town centre mixed-use schemes with food stores and other uses, often residential. This sector includes regeneration and waterside schemes. Central London focuses on projects from Canary Wharf to Hammersmith and Camden down to Wandsworth, Southwark and Lambeth.

When he isn’t working, Nick can be found playing golf (increasingly badly) and spending time re-stocking and emptying his wine cellar to indulge his passion for wine.

Jon leads the Carter Jonas London development team, providing strategic development advice, feasibility and viability studies, acquisition, disposal and marketing advice and advice on structuring and procuring development partnerships. He has 30 years’ experience, working initially in local government and then in consultancy at Donaldsons, Knight Frank and GL Hearn.

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John is Head of the Leeds office and the Planning & Development Team North. John advises clients on proposed development projects throughout the North of England.  He has over 30 years’ experience in residential and commercial development acting for private, corporate, institutional, charity and public sector clients.

This includes site identification, project management of planning and development strategies, valuation and viability appraisals, marketing and sale of development opportunities.

John has specific expertise in Options, Promotional Agreements, Joint Ventures and Conditional Contracts, acting mainly for landowners.  John has been involved in projects such as new settlements, to city centre regeneration, provincial sites, large commercial developments and site sales.

The Development Agency team are currently instructed on 6,500 acres in 150 locations across the North West, Yorkshire and the North East.

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James is Chairman of Carter Jonas.  Formerly Head of the Planning & Development Division, James advises clients on proposed development projects throughout the south of England with nearly 30 years of experience in residential and mixed use development.  This includes site identification, project management of planning and development strategies, valuation and viability appraisals, marketing and sale of development opportunities. He has specific expertise in option, promotion and other development agreements, joint ventures and landowner equalisation agreements. James has been involved in sites ranging from new settlements to city centre regeneration and smaller provincial and rural schemes, and also provides expert witness and independent expert valuation services for dispute resolution.

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Colin is a Partner and was appointed Head of Planning & Development Division in November 2020, he is based out of our Cambridge office.  He has over 25 years’ experience of planning consultancy and has a broad sphere of work.  He acts for a wide range of private, institutional and developer clients and has worked on significant planning applications and appeals.

He regularly instructs Counsel, and has appeared at a number of Local Plan examinations and in Section 78 and other appeals where he has often given evidence.  He carries out much land promotion work and has a strong track record of delivering planning consents taking projects through their entire process from site identification to construction on site.  

Away from work, Colin is Chairman of the Cambridge Forum for the Construction Industry and of the Cambridge branch of networking group, Interact.  He is also Chairman of the Dining Rights Committee at the Hawks’ Club, a sporting club in the City for Cambridge University sportsmen. He is a regular, if poor golfer, a keen cyclist and a committed, but somewhat less dangerous skier than he once was.

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Matthew has acted for a wide number of Landowner Clients including:

  • Royal Estate Sandringham
  • Crown Point Estate
  • Cecil Family Trust
  • Greene King Plc
  • North Hertfordshire College
  • Cemex
  • May Gurney
  • Pigeon
  • Advice, marketing, disposal and additional tranche disposal of 1,500 unit Residential Development in Grantham.

Project team principle for disposal of the NHC Centre of the Arts, Hitchin, securing a Development Partner and assembling a professional team to progress an application, sale and disposal of a principal asset within the College’s portfolio 

Mathew has over 29 years' experience in the property industry and has been directly involved Residential Development in East Anglia since 1998. He specialises in Land Disposals and Acquisition; Strategic Land, Promotion and Option Agreements. He has acted for a wide range of private and public sector land owners companies including Greene King, Royal Estate Sandringham; Grant Thornton, Pigeon, Crown Point Estate, Cemex (formerly RMC), The Diocese of Norfolk & Norwich and North Hertfordshire College as well as private land owners across the region.

He is Head of Residential Development at the Cambridge Office.

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Steven is Partner and Head of Planning Southern Region and is based in our Oxford office.

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