Skip to main content

Kick-starting the economy – “Build, build, build”!

A summary of the government's key proposals to the planning system in a bid to help kick-start the economy as lockdown restrictions begin to ease.

Planning reforms

There has been a flurry of recent activity by Government relating to proposed reforms of the planning system in a bid to help kick-start the economy as lockdown restrictions begin to ease. The package of measures announced are also part of the Government’s wider levelling up agenda, including the further devolution of powers and funding to regional public bodies.

On the back of the Prime Minister’s pledge to ‘build, build, build' during his speech on 30 June 2020 in Dudley, further details were set out in a letter addressed to MPs by Robert Jenrick MP, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities & Local Government.

A number of proposed reforms are already contained within legislation which is set to come into force in the near future (items 1 to 3 below), whilst further detail on other proposals will come forward over the coming months. We set out the latest position below and summarise the key proposals.

1. Upwards extension of existing residential blocks of flats

Deemed planning permission will be granted for the construction of up to two storeys to create new flats on the "topmost residential storey on a building which is a purpose-built, detached block of flats". The new permitted development (PD) right contains limitations and conditions on how it operates (including on the scale and use of the existing building) and prior approval is required from the local planning authority (LPA) on a variety of matters. The extensive nature of conditions and prior approval matters will provide some reassurance to LPAs over the level of control they will have, though it has the potential to undermine some of the benefits of having a new PD right for developers. 

The Town and Country Planning (Permitted Development and Miscellaneous Amendments) (England) (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020 (SI 2020/632) was made on 23 June 2020 and will come into force on 1 August. 

These Regulations also amend existing PD rights to ensure LPAs consider the provision of adequate natural light to all habitable rooms in connection with changes of use to dwelling houses.

We are already advising clients on the opportunities this presents and implications. 

Separately, the Secretary of State has also announced proposals to extend this PD right to include commercial buildings and homes, again subject to conditions to be set out in Regulations before the summer recess.

2. The Business and Planning Bill 2020 proposes a series of measures to respond to the Covid crisis, including:

  1. Allowing automatic extensions to the life of existing planning permissions and listed building consents until 1 April 2021 in view of the difficulties caused by lockdown;
  2. Making it easier for premises in England serving food and drink, such as bars and restaurants, to seat and serve customers outdoors through temporary changes to planning procedures. The Bill will also make temporary changes to the alcohol licensing rules applicable in England and Wales.
  3. Providing the Planning Inspectorate with increased procedural flexibility when dealing with a planning appeal. The ability to adopt a mix of written representations, hearing and/ or inquiry procedure, depending on the topic in the appeal should increase speed and reduce costs. This type of approach of having issue specific hearings already works well in the Development Consent Order process for large infrastructure projects; an
  4. Introducing a bespoke application process for developers to temporarily vary planning conditions dealing with construction site working hours.

The Bill is currently being fast tracked through Parliament and is yet to come into force.

3. Amendments to Community Infrastructure Levy (“CIL”) Regulations

Draft Regulations provide for the ability to request deferral of a CIL payment due to financial difficulties caused by COVID-19. CIL is typically payable on commencement of development and the sums involved can be significant, so it is hoped this will provide a mechanism to enable development to continue to come forward in these difficult circumstances.

4. Greater flexibility for changes of use

The Secretary of State intends to bring forward a new broad category of ‘commercial, business and service’ uses to allow commercial premises to be repurposed and give existing commercial, retail and leisure uses greater flexibility to ‘adapt to changing circumstances’.

He also proposes to introduce a new permitted development right to support changes of use to residential on the high street, subject to conditions.

5. Vacant building regeneration for residential purposes

A new permitted development right is to be introduced to encourage the regeneration of vacant buildings. The right would allow ‘free-standing vacant and redundant commercial and residential buildings to be demolished – and rebuilt as residential use’ (again, subject to conditions).

6. Levelling up

The Government has announced the first allocations from the Brownfield Land Fund to support the development of roughly 24,000 homes, which seeks to decrease the ‘pressure to build on greenfield sites’.

The Government is also working with local areas to identify ‘shovel-ready’ projects (announcing a £900 million fund to achieve this) and is accelerating the £3.6 billion Towns Fund to further support towns with their economic recovery.

Interestingly, the funds are largely to be allocated to regional Combined Authorities and LEPs, which suggests there will be an increased role in future for regional bodies in facilitating delivery of projects (including residential) as part of the Government’s broader levelling up agenda and devolution of powers/funding.

Moreover, the Prime Minister revealed that a strategy would be formulated in due course to support the release of public sector land for development.

7. Home ownership

Further to the March Budget announcement, the Government will proceed with a new £12 billion Affordable Homes Programme, aiming to deliver 180,000 homes over the next eight years. The Programme includes the provision of 1,500 ‘First Homes’ (sold to first-time buyers and key workers in the area at a 30% discount). This looks set to supersede David Cameron’s “Starter Homes” initiative, which has had very low take up.

We are increasingly seeing discount sale homes secured within section 106 agreements as a form of affordable housing and are experienced at drafting provisions to satisfy the requirement for the discount to be retained in perpetuity.

Additionally, a new Shared Ownership scheme will be introduced and £450 million of funding for the Home Building Fund will be made available to support SME builders.

8. Infrastructure delivery

The Government has announced £5 billion of capital investment for projects in England, including cash for the housing, education, prisons, justice, healthcare and transport sectors.

An Infrastructure Delivery Task Force is to be created with the intention of fast-tracking major building projects. The task force will be chaired by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak.

The long anticipated National Infrastructure Strategy is now due to be published in the Autumn. This had originally been expected at the end of 2019, in response to recommendations of the National Infrastructure Commission’s report. Those working in the energy and infrastructure sector are also keenly awaiting publication of the Government’s Energy White paper.

9. Wider planning reform

The Government also plans to issue a planning policy paper in July 2020 which will set out plans for the comprehensive reform of the planning system. This is expected to include proposals to include more zonal planning.

We will monitor the proposals closely and produce further focussed follow-up pieces as and when further details are released, including on the proposed wider structural reforms of the planning system. In the meantime, if we can assist in any way, please do not hesitate to get in touch with our specialist planning & infrastructure consents solicitors.

Share on Twitter