UK chancellor announces planning reforms aimed at boosting delivery of housing

Out-Law News | 16 Jul 2015 | 10:00 am | 2 min. read

UK chancellor George Osborne has announced a series of planning reforms that he claims will help boost the delivery of housing in the UK.

The proposals include new powers for the government to intervene where councils fail to produce a local plan to meet housing needs; granting automatic planning permission in principle on registered brownfield sites suitable for housing; and the inclusion of projects with an element of housing under the streamlined Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) consent regime.

The proposed reforms were outlined in a document called Fixing the Foundations: Creating a More Prosperous Nation (88-page / 919 KB PDF). Introducing the document on Friday, Osborne said the reforms formed part of the government's plans to raise the UK's productivity and living standards.

The document said a deadline would be set this month for local authorities to put in place local plans for the delivery of housing and jobs. It said proposals would be brought forward to "significantly streamline the length and process of local plans" and guidance would be strengthened "to improve the operation of the duty [for neighbouring local authorities] to co-operate on key housing and planning issues". Where councils failed to make sufficient progress, the document said the communities secretary would intervene to arrange for local plans to be written.

Having previously committed to introducing statutory registers of brownfield land suitable for housing, the document said the government would legislate "to grant automatic permission in principle on brownfield sites identified on those registers, subject to the approval of a limited number of technical details".

The government proposed in the document to allow major infrastructure projects that include an element of housing to receive consent under the NSIP regime. Infrastructure planning expert Robbie Owen of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com said: "This is a very welcome announcement that rectifies what is commonly regarded as an anomaly of the NSIP regime, which is that not even a single dwelling can be included in an NSIP proposal. We look forward to discussing with government how far this proposed reform will extend and whether government will also be prepared to allow large-scale housing projects to qualify for NSIP consent in their own right, as per recent requests by the property industry."

A series of measures were announced to help speed up the process of making planning decisions. The government said it would bring minor applications within the planning performance regime and remove powers from councils failing to make more than 50% of decisions on time. It confirmed that a dispute resolution process would be introduced to speed up the negotiation of section 106 agreements, a measure expected to form part of the forthcoming Enterprise Bill.

The government also confirmed that it intends to press ahead with reforms to compulsory purchase processes proposed in a DCLG consultation (39-page / 489 KB PDF) in the spring. The proposals included setting statutory targets and timescales for confirming compulsory purchase orders; clarifying existing compulsory purchase guidance; and extending the minimum notice period for making entry of acquired premises. It said it would bring forward further compulsory purchase reforms relating to brownfield development in the autumn but the requirement for the communities secretary to approve all compulsory purchase orders would be retained.