Councils should face special measures for failing to adopt local plans, says RICS report

Out-Law News | 16 Sep 2014 | 4:58 pm | 2 min. read

A report from the Royal Institute for Chartered Surveyors (RICS) has called on a future UK government to make the adoption of up-to-date local plans compulsory and to place local planning authorities in 'special measures' should they fail to put a plan in place.

The proposed policy was among 12 recommendations put forward in RICS' Property in Politics report (20-page / 10.7 MB PDF), following a consultation which invited property professionals from across England to share "their professional insight into the biggest challenges currently facing housing, planning and development, construction and infrastructure".

The report said that "the planning system needs to be more responsive to the needs of its customers in order to build the housing and infrastructure we need, reduce delays and cut cost to both the public and private sectors".

In order to prevent "costly and time consuming appeals" and "areas becoming deadlocked", RICS suggested that the adoption of local plans to guide local authority planning decisions ought to be made compulsory, with either a new Office for Planning or the Planning Inspectorate being able to place councils into "special measures" should plans not be put in place.  

RICS called for government support to boost staff numbers in local authority planning departments. It said staff levels in some departments had been "cut back by up to 50%". Increased staffing levels would "increase public and industry confidence, allow sites ... to be unlocked, reduce delays, provide additional rigour to applications, achieve up-to-date local plans and support communities in the delivery of neighbourhood plans", RICS said.

RICS also recommended the introduction of a new class of land, called "amberfield" land, which it described as being "between green and brown". Local authorities could allocate sites that were deemed "favourable for sustainable development" as "amberfield" in their local plans, the report said, indicating to developers that these sites were "ready to go" and would not face the potential delays involved in bringing forward greenfield and brownfield development. A national review of brownfield sites was recommended to identify sites with high potential for reclassification.

The report was supportive of the concept of housing zones, which it said could be developed to include new build, retrofit and affordable housing categories depending on local need. It called for the introduction of new 'development delivery units' with compulsory purchase powers to fast-track "the delivery of housing, regeneration and infrastructure projects in specific areas".

A professional private rented sector could be created by the implementation of "a consistent regulatory framework across all aspects of the residential market", RICS said. Within the first 100 days of coming into power, the new UK government should also issue forward guidance on the government's property tax intentions so as to provide the confidence required to encourage investment, it said.

On infrastructure, the report called for local infrastructure business plans to be drawn up to demonstrate the benefits of local infrastructure development projects and the wider use of 'Olympic-style' delivery partnerships to bring projects forward. A national infrastructure delivery plan, outlining the "timelines, funding allocation and coordination of delivery partners" should be set up to stimulate investment in local infrastructure projects, RICS suggested, with a new Infrastructure Commission put in place to monitor plans and identify long-term infrastructure needs.

Other recommendations in the report included: the simplification of rules relating to the procurement process; incentives for employers and educators of construction workers; and better access to construction finance.