Commentary about the Government’s adjusted direction for planning reform has been running on mist and speculation since Michael Gove’s return as Levelling Up Secretary of State on 25 October 2022, pending the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement on 17 November 2022.
But now it’s all systems go. As well as the Autumn Statement we now have:
- Michael Gove’s written ministerial statement giving an update on the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill (17 November 2022)
- Amendments tabled to the Bill (17 November 2022)
- DLUHC’s press statement Plans to level up and build new homes tabled in Parliament – GOV.UK (18 November 2022)
The Secretary of State is due to appear before the LUHC Select Committee on 21 November and the Bill will have its report and third reading stages on 23 and 28 November before heading to the Lords.
The Autumn Statement itself contained little in relation to planning reform, other than to “refocus” investment zones:
“3.16 The government will seek to accelerate delivery of projects across its infrastructure portfolio, rather than focus on the list of projects that were flagged for acceleration in the Growth Plan. The government will continue to ensure that all infrastructure is delivered quickly through reforms to the planning system, including through updating National Policy Statements for transport, energy and water resources during 2023, and through sector-specific interventions.”
“3.25 The government will refocus the Investment Zones programme. The government will use this programme to catalyse a limited number of the highest potential knowledge-intensive growth clusters, including through leveraging local research strengths. The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities will work closely with mayors, devolved administrations, local authorities, businesses and other local partners to consider how best to identify and support these clusters, driving growth while maintaining high environmental standards, with the first clusters to be announced in the coming months. The existing expressions of interest will therefore not be taken forward. The government is grateful to local authorities for their work to develop proposals.”
I recommend two good commentaries on the Autumn Statement:
- Autumn Statement 2022: A very different fiscal statement (Lichfields, 18 November 2022)
- Puppets on a (massive) swing? (Bellona Advisors, 19 November 2022)
The amendments tabled to the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill are potentially significant. To quote from the 18 November 2022 press statement:
“Amendments being tabled will:
- Tackle slow build out by developers to make sure much needed new homes are delivered. Developers will have to report annually to councils on their progress and councils will have new powers to block planning proposals from builders who have failed to deliver on the same land.
- Improve our environment and enshrine in law an obligation on water companies to clean up our rivers by upgrading wastewater treatment works. Considering all catchments covered by the amendment, our initial estimates indicate that there will be around a 75% reduction in phosphorus loads and around a 55% reduction in nitrogen loads in total from wastewater treatment works, although this will vary between individual catchments. These upgrades will enable housebuilding to be unlocked by reducing the amount of mitigation developers must provide to offset nutrient pollution. This will be accompanied by a Nutrient Mitigation Scheme that will make it easier for developers to discharge their mitigation obligations.
- Give residents a new tool to propose additional development on their street, like extensions to existing homes, through ‘street votes’. Planning permission will only be granted when an independent examiner is satisfied that certain requirements, such as on design, have been met and the proposal is endorsed at a referendum by the immediate community. Pilot Community Land Auctions – testing a new way of capturing value from land when it is allocated for development in the local plan to provide vital infrastructure, including schools, roads, GP surgeries, and the affordable housing that communities need.
- Enhancing powers for mayors to support them to managing their key route networks and increase transport connectivity across their area.
- Help Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects such as wind farms and new major transport links be delivered more quickly, by enabling a small number of public bodies to charge for their statutory services to help them provide a better, reliable, quality of advice to developers and support faster planning decisions.”
There are some potentially controversial proposals here, for instance local planning authorities would be able to decline to determine an application for planning permission of any prescribed description if the application has been made by someone who “has a connection with” earlier development which “has begun but has not been substantially completed” and where the “local planning authority is of the opinion that the carrying out of the earlier development has been unreasonably slow”.
Begun but not substantially completed, unreasonably slow – sounds to me like the Government’s performance in relation to planning reform….
The press statement doesn’t mention an additional tabled amendment, which would empower the Secretary of State to make such amendments and modifications to existing planning, development and compulsory purchase legislation as in the Secretary of State’s opinion facilitate or are otherwise desirable in connection with their consolidation. That’s one hell of a Henry VIII clause! A Town Legal colleague commented to me that the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee will certainly be interested in this one if it reaches the Lords.
More from me on a number of the proposals in due course. In particular, I had really hoped I would never have to tackle community land auctions (again) or street votes.
We still await any announcements about planning policy reform, including as to changes to the NPPF and the future of the standard method for calculating local housing needs. We were left to read between the lines of what was said by Levelling Up Under Secretary of State Dehenna Davison in a Westminster Hall 30 minute debate earlier in the week on housing targets (15 November 2022):
“I know I am preaching to the converted when it comes to the need to modernise our planning system, and I think all MPs understand and get that we need a planning regime that is fit for 2022. […] I also understand that Members are frustrated—they are right to be frustrated—that this has been under discussion not just for months, but for years. We need more houses, and that obviously brings with it an obligation on us in Government to be frank and straight with people that building more houses has implications, both positive and sometimes negative. In some places, it will cause tension, and in some places, it will be a source of relief, but it is our job to be willing to have that dialogue, regardless of how difficult it may be. I am not sure that Governments of all colours have always approached these kinds of conversations in the most productive way. The inconvenient truth is that, for the best part of two decades, demand has outstripped the supply of homes.“
“…If we can get our planning regime right, we can unlock a huge amount of economic growth locally. We want to help local authorities to adopt and implement the best planning approaches for their areas. To achieve that, local authorities will need to be able to better attract and retain planners […] and we want to work further with the sector on that. He was right to highlight that as one of the major challenges facing authorities at the moment.
To incentivise plan production and to ensure that newly produced plans are not undermined, the Government intend to make it clear that authorities do not have to maintain a five-year supply of land for housing where they have an up-to-date plan. As Members would expect, we plan to consult on that. The new measures should have a minimal impact on housing supply, given that newly produced plans will contain up-to-date allocations of land for development, but that will also send a signal that the Government are backing a plan-led approach, provided that those plans are up to date.
There is no getting around the fact that we are in a difficult economic time. We face headwinds from all angles—energy, inflation and interest rate rises—and those have knock-on implications for everything that the Government do, but to my mind, they only serve to underline the need to build more homes and to give generation rent the chance to become generation buy. That is why we have to stand by our commitment to dramatically ramp up housing supply and our manifesto pledge to build a million new homes within the first term of this Parliament”
For additional political colour (blue) see also Michael Gove’s keynote speech at the Centre for Policy Studies’ Margaret Thatcher Conference on growth (16 November 2022)
Simon Ricketts, 19 November 2022
Personal views, et cetera