Housing White Paper: Planning authorities will get powers to speed up completion

Out-Law News | 07 Feb 2017 | 5:09 pm | 2 min. read

Local planning authorities (LPA) are to get more powers to speed up the delivery of new homes and prevent 'land banking' by developers, the government has announced.

These measures could include shortening the planning permission period to require developers to start building within two years, rather than three years; and making it easier for LPAs to issue completion notices, according to the government's long-awaited 'white paper' on housing policy.

Too many homes granted planning permission are taking too long to be built, with more than one third of new homes granted planning permission between 2010/11 and 2015/16 still not delivered, according to the government. The planned measures will allow LPAs to "speed up housebuilding" as well as make sure that developers build homes on time, the government said.

Planning law expert Jamie Lockerbie of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said that the plans in the paper were "not as draconian as was rumoured".

"At the most extreme end of the scale the rumours that the government would suggest the use of compulsory purpose powers to acquire land that has not been developed due to alleged 'land banking' do not seem to have come to fruition," he said. "Instead, the paper suggests that compulsory purchase powers could be used to 'support the build-out of stalled sites'."

"The use of the word 'support' suggests that this will be a tool to assist a developer, say where a third party landowner is holding up development, rather than as a penal measure to confiscate land if it is not developed in a timely manner," he said.

"As expected, the paper includes the much-expected proposal to reduce the standard life of a planning permission from three years to two. Less expectedly, it makes reference to proposals to 'simplify and speed up' the completion notice process. The ability of an LPA to issue a completion notice has existed for years but is a very rarely used power. Simplifying the process should give LPAs the confidence to use this power as a stick to discourage the stalling of development," he said.

LPAs can issue completion notices in certain circumstances, enabling them to withdraw planning permission for the remainder of a site where development has stopped and there is no prospect of completion. The government will "simplify and speed up" the current process, making it easier for LPAs to use completion notices to either stimulate building or clear unused planning permissions from their planned supply of land.

The government is also "considering the implications" of reducing the default planning permission period from three years to two, "except where a shorter timescale could hinder the viability or deliverability of a scheme", according to the paper. This would be introduced by way of a change to national planning policy, and backed by proposals to tackle points of delay and provide more support to developers and LPAs set out elsewhere in the paper, the government said.

LPAs will also be encouraged to "think about" how they can use their existing compulsory purchase powers to promote development, particularly in areas of high housing need. The government intends to issue new guidance to LPAs that will encourage them to use these powers in order to "support the build out of stalled sites". The government is not proposing to extend the compulsory purchase rules at this stage, but will keep this under review, according to the paper.