My 6 December 2022 blog post Gove Gives: Local Housing Need Now Just “Advisory” summarised the contents of his written ministerial statement that day which promised a “National Planning Policy Framework prospectus, which will be put out for consultation by Christmas”.
I mentioned in the blog post a letter which he had written to all MPs the previous day which had gone into more detail that the statement. I hadn’t included a link to the letter. It is here. What is even more interesting is that there is another letter, of the same date, written just to Conservative MPs. The link to that one is here.
The introduction to the letter to Conservative MPs makes the intended policy direction very clear. For instance:
“Whatever we do at a national level, politics is always local and there is no area that demonstrates this more than planning. Through reforms made by Conservative-led governments since 2010, we have a locally-led planning system – for instance, by scrapping policies like top-down regional targets that built nothing but resentment – and introducing neighbourhood planning. These reforms have delivered a record of which Conservatives can be proud. I also do not need to remind you that under the last Labour government, housebuilding reached its lowest rate since the 1920s.
But there is much more to do to ensure we can build enough of the right homes in the right places with the right infrastructure, and to ensure that local representatives can decide where – and where not – to place new development. As Conservatives, we recognise both the fundamental importance of home ownership and that we can only deliver the homes we need if we bring the communities we represent with us. These are the promises on which we stood in our manifesto and ones that I and the Prime Minister are determined to deliver.
I am therefore writing to set out the further changes I will be making to the planning system, alongside the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, which address many colleagues’ concerns. They will place local communities at the heart of the planning system.
As you know I share the views of many colleagues about the current system. That it does not provide the right homes in the right places, and at its worst risks imposing ever more stretching housing targets that are out of touch with reality – leading to developers taking advantage through planning by appeal and speculative development. Communities feel that they are under siege, and I am clear that this approach will never be right or sustainable if we want to build the homes that our communities want and need.”
This Government weaves around planning reform like Kylian Mbappe. First the 2020 white paper, then the u-turn after the Chesham and Amersham by-election, then the Kwarteng “growth growth growth” plan – and now placing house-building delivery firmly in the hands of “communities” – in reality, at root, existing home owners – with a weakened process for local plan examination:
“I will ensure that plans no longer have to be ‘justified’, meaning that there will be a lower bar for assessment, and authorities will no longer have to provide disproportionate amounts of evidence to argue their case.”
Is all of this just another feint, a shimmy past the Tory rebel MPs to ensure that planning reform can actually progress? Or genuine capitulation – genuflection to the election pamphlet needs of political colleagues? Zack Simons doesn’t mince his words in his 8 December 2022 blog post Notes on reform: the Government gives up – essential reading.
The matters to be consulted upon in the forthcoming prospectus are numerous. Steve Quartermain and I were counting them this week and ran out of fingers – the letters include commitments to consultation as to at least the following matters:
- Changes to the method for calculating local housing need figures
- Dropping the requirement for a 20% buffer to be added to housing land supply numbers for both plan making and decision taking
- What should be within the scope of the new National Development Management Policies
- Each new National Development Management Policy before it is brought forward
- Detailed proposals for increases in planning fees
- A New planning performance framework that will monitor local performance across a broader set of measures of planning service delivery, including planning enforcement
- Further measures (i) allowing local planning authorities to refuse planning applications from developers who have built out slowly in the past and (ii) making sure that local authorities who permission land are not punished under the housing delivery test when it is developers who are not building
- A new approach to accelerating the speed at which permissions are built out, specifically on a new financial penalty
- How to address the issue of the planning system being “undermined by irresponsible developers and landowners who persistently ignore planning rules and fail to deliver their commitments to the community”.
- Amending national policy to support development on small sites, particularly with respect to affordable housing
- Further measures that would prioritise the use of brownfield land
- Details of how a discretionary registration scheme for short term lets in England would be administered
- Reviewing the Use Classes Order so that it “enables places such as Devon, Cornwall and the Lake District to better control changes of use to short term lets if they wish“.
There is a lot to take in here – both what is written and what is between the lines. To try to help make sense of the prospectus when it lands, there will be a special Planning Law Unplanned clubhouse discussion at 4pm on 4 January 2023 featuring various planners and planning lawyers, including myself, Zack, Steve and many more. Join the event via this link – do RSVP in the link and get it in your diaries.
Simon Ricketts, 10 December 2022
Personal views, et cetera