POS was quick off the mark in responding to the Chancellor's Budget proposals for planning and housing.
- A 'powerful' new presumption in favour of 'sustainable' development so that the 'default answer' to development is yes. Stuart Hylton, Convenor of the SE Region who attended a DCLG briefing on the Budget, comments "It sounds as if the presumption in favour of sustainable development will be enshrined in the NPPF. If the consultation on sustainability is to take place in May, that may also mean that the first draft of the NPPF itself will appear in the same timescale." Hylton also advised that "there was some debate about whether the presumption in favour of sustainable growth would also require conformity with the development plan, or whether sustainability without conformity would be sufficient to secure planning consent. DCLG seemed to think that if a development was sustainable and in conformity, it should be fast tracked; if sustainable and the development plan was silent on the subject, it should also get fast tracked; but that a scheme that was sustainable but at odds with the development plan could still be refused."
- The Government will enable businesses, as well as residents, to bring forward neighbourhood plans and neighbourhood development orders. Hylton remarks "The Government see a role for businesses in initiating neighbourhood plans, not just being engaged in plans initiated by others. Examples quoted of where this might happen were town centres and (unspecified) 'large sites'. Some of those present feared that a business-driven neighbourhood plan might alienate the rest of the community."
- There will be a 12 month 'guaranteed' time limit on planning applications, including any appeals, with a fast track for major infrastructure projects. POS understands from DCLG that the 8- and 13-week regimes are not superseded and that the 12 months covers everything from the Local Authority part of the process to a possible appeal and (where applicable) a Ministerial decision. Hylton comments"given that the local authority part of the process generally takes much less than 12 months, the new requirement may be seen principally as a discipline for PINs and the Ministers."
- New land auctions on land with planning permission will commence with public sector land. Pilots will be used to monitor and will give an indication of the way in which future initiatives will be implemented. Hylton advises "The land auctions idea will initially only happen in a very watered down form at first, being limited to public bodies' (principally MOD) land. Those present at the briefing were at a loss to see how this would inject any element of competition into the land coming forward for development." There appears to to POS to be a good deal of scepticism about the land auction idea, which was seen by some as both unworkable and opposed to the spirit of localism . Hylton added "It remains to be seen how public bodies will resolve the tension between their duty to achieve best value from the sale of any assets with the Government's desire to reduce land costs."
- Consultation on proposals to convert commercial buildings to residential without requiring planning permission (and not just in Enterprise Zones as some had thought). The Chancellor said this will "unshackle developers from a legacy of bureaucratic planning..." POS understands that DCLG refer to the idea of making a change of use from commercial to residential Permitted Development in the context of a wider review of PD rights. Hylton remarks"one specific possibility that was trailed was making a change of use in the opposite direction also PD. There was a view among many of those present that the blanket removal of control over development through relaxing PD rights was anti-localist." POS beieves consultation on revisions to the Use Classes Order will happen 'very shortly'. Stephen Tapper, President of POS indicated that "councils have no wish to see business premises lying empty or to obstruct potential housing development. We are therefore open to a discussion about whether the planning system as it works currently could be improved in that regard, based on evidence and the experience of the sector ." He went on to say that "informed and accountable local politicians must retain the ability to deliver local people's aspirations for the look and feel of town centres, and the quality of new homes. It will be vital to retain developer contributions in accordance with local Core Strategy policies in respect of vital matters such as affordable housing and education, and other items of infrastructure without which there will not be local support for the development." In addition, Tapper suggests "that in some business areas the change of use might not be welcomed by existing neighbouring businesses who will regard a residential use in their midst as a major constraint on them, as indeed it would be through environmental protection laws and the right of residents to a fairly quiet life!"
- Legislation will introduce a duty on local authorities and public bodies to require them to co-operate on planning issues. John Silvester, Spokesperson for the Society, commented that "cooperation between authorities is nothing new; what is welcome is the imposition of a duty on other public bodies - this should result in more productive strategies based on robust evidence from all stakeholders, which is vital for effective infrastructure planning."
- 11 Enterprise Zones are to be set-up across across England. POS understands the Enterprise Zones will be set up within existing LEP areas, so it is not a means for those who missed out first time round to have a second go; other LEPs will be encouraged to bid for a further ten Enterprise Zones. Hylton wonders "Would they be different to the Mark 1 version, which had proved to be (a) an expensive way of creating jobs and (b) tended to move existing jobs from out of the area into the EZ, rather than creating new jobs?" It seems DCLG are of the view that there would be less in the way financial incentives and there could be differences between the regimes in one EZ and another. Hylton added "they are mindful of the criticisms of the mark 1 EZs and would seek to address them . One possible advantage I have heard is that EZ status will make it easier for local authorities to forward fund the necessary infrastructure."
- Other proposals include:
- the HCA are to accelerate public land release and there are plans for a "build now, pay later" scheme to encourage developers to get on site
- various moves to ease the burden of regulation on developers are planned, including a redefinition of zero-carbon homes. Silvester offered the view that "this means that from 2016 new homes will no longer have to make a net zero addition to the carbon footprint of our overall housing stock. The change of policy will result in the direct mitigation of only around 2/3 of emissions from the typical home over the course of a year."
- a strong "town centre first" policy for retail is to be retained.
Hylton concluded his comments by saying "there was an acceptance that planning was by no means the main constraint on development, given the current state of the market, but it was thought that its importance could increase as the market picked up - hence the current moves to deregulate."
Stuart Hylton Stephen Tapper John Silvester