UK to speed up planning for new homes

Measures in the UK’s new Neighbourhood Planning Bill will support more house building and provide more local say over housing developments, it is claimed.

According to Housing and Planning Minister Gavin Barwell it will speed up and strengthen the popular neighbourhood planning process by simplifying how plans can be revised as local circumstances change and ensure that plans come into force sooner once approved by local people.

‘We need to build more homes and this Bill is the first of a number of measures to deliver on that. We have already built more than 900,000 homes since 2010 and now this Bill will help speed up delivery of the further new homes our country needs and ensure our foot is still firmly on the pedal,’ said Barwell.

‘We’re also going further than ever before to speed up neighbourhood planning which puts power in the hands of local people to decide where development gets built. There will also be a simplifying of the compulsory purchase order process to make it clearer, fairer and faster. Compulsory purchase is always used as a last resort but can be essential in delivering big and complex schemes,’ he explained.

‘The process can be unnecessarily uncertain and complex. Measures in the Bill will clarify the process which is currently based on a patchwork of statute and case law and make the system fairer for all parties,’ he added.

He also pointed out that further Bill measures will ensure that planning conditions which require developers to take action before work starts are only used where strictly necessary, but in a way that ensures important heritage and environmental safeguards remain in place, so that once a developer has planning permission they can get on and start building as soon as possible.

It is acknowledged that unnecessary and unreasonable planning conditions can prevent development from starting until the local planning authority has approved certain details. To help address the urgent need to tackle the inappropriate use of ‘pre-commencement’ conditions, the government is introducing a power in the Neighbourhood Planning Bill to ensure that these conditions can only be used with the agreement of the applicant.

‘The measure will not change the way conditions can be used to maintain existing protections for important matters such as heritage, the natural environment, green spaces, and the mitigation of flooding,’ Barwell added.

The government will also introduce a power in the Bill to prohibit specific types of condition which do not meet the tests in the National Planning Policy Framework.

According to James Bainbridge, head of planning and development at firm Carter Jonas, the majority of Neighbourhood Plans to date have focused on stopping development rather than promoting it. ‘Some councils think about the bigger picture, but at parish level there is the tendency to adopt a parochial view that resists development as much as possible. Neighbourhoods as they are defined often don’t have the ability to see the bigger picture to deliver the scale of infrastructure that is required,’ he explained.

‘A good example of this is a village that was supportive of a new ring round, but didn’t want the housing that would fund it. Borough and District Councils should be making plans, as they can take a wider view of their particular geography or local economy and they have the specialist resources to do it,’ he pointed out.

‘In some cases, Boroughs and District Councils are saying that they will plan the major strategic sites but are leaving housing up to Neighbourhood Plans with little direction of how much housing needs to be included in each plan. The combination of local resistance and the lack of clarity on numbers needed means that ultimately putting more focus on Neighbourhood Plans could just slow down much needed housing and infrastructure delivery,’ he added.

He believes that reducing the burden on developers to essential planning conditions will be a positive step to accelerate the delivery of new homes. ‘There are so many conditions that developers have to satisfy once they have obtained permission, that it is significantly delaying the delivery of critical housing projects,’ said Bainbridge.

He gave as an example a site with 52 pre-commencement conditions that all had to be discharged before anyone could start building a house. ‘In the worst case scenario, some sites are taking up to three years to get going, after it has been resolved that planning permission will be granted,’ he added.

The development of new compulsory purchase law will significantly reduce the potential harm to landowners across England and Wales, according to the Country Landowners Association (CLA), which represents landowners, farmers and rural businesses.