More Power for local communities in proposed planning reform as housing targets come under review

07 December 2022

On 5th December, in a letter to Parliamentary colleagues, Michael Gove set out a series of proposed changes to the Levelling UP and Regeneration Bill, with the intention of placing ‘local communities at the heart of the planning system’, whilst protecting Green Belt land, prioritising brownfield land and tackling slow build out by developers. In recognition that the planning system ‘is not working as it should’, a summary of the proposals recommended by Gove, are outlined below. Our response is also provided.

Housing targets

The Government proposes to change the methods for calculating local housing need figures. Importantly, any figures will be advisory and not mandatory.

The emphasis will be upon leaving it up to the local authorities (LA) to work with the local communities to determine how many homes will be built.

Planning Inspectorate can no longer override local decision making.

When considering what gets built, constraints such as national parks and heritage restrictions, Green Belt and local character will need to be assessed. Importantly, it is noted that any development which leads to a change of character should be avoided. Also of note is that agricultural land is to be protected for the production of food.

Local Plans and the 5YHLS debate

In terms of the soundness of local plans, there will be a lower bar for assessment and LAs will no longer have to provide disproportionate amounts of evidence to support their case.

It is the intention to end the obligation on LAs to maintain a rolling 5YHLS where their plans are up to date. Consultation will also take place on dropping the requirement for a 20% buffer to be added for both plan making and decision making. For those LAs who have overdelivered in housing, when preparing new local plans, this can be taken into account, thereby lowering the number of houses they need to plan for.

For those plans which are at an advanced stage of preparation, a two-year period to revise their plans against the changes proposed will be granted. The government also proposes to reduce the amount of land which they need to show is available on a rolling basis from the current 5 years to 4.

Community protection

The Government proposes to increase community protection afforded against developer appeals by increasing such protections from 2 to 5 years.

New National Development Management Policies will be consulted upon. These Policies will not constrain the ability of local areas to set policies on specific local issues.

Planning fees

It is the intention of the Government to increase planning fees.

Build out

To ensure developers build out the permissions for which they have permissions three additional measures will be consulted on:

1. Allowing LAs to refuse planning applications from developers who have built ‘slowly’ in the past.

2. Ensuring that LAs are not punished under the housing delivery test if it is the developers who are not building.

3. Possibility of a new financial penalty.

Developer character

Government wants to give LAs the power to say ‘no’ to developers who have ‘acted badly’ in the past.

Brownfield first

Government is still prioritising brownfield development.

It will continue to seek further development in towns and cities through pd rights allowing change from commercial to residential use.

Infrastructure Levy will be set locally by LAs which will allow them to set a lower levy for a brownfield site.

Duty to co-operate

The objective of the Government is to get cities to build more houses and avoid them off loading their responsibilities to neighbouring green fields.

The avoidance of development on green fields

Further protection will be given for agricultural land to be used for food production thereby making it harder for developers to build on it.

The Housing Market

A discretionary proposed registration scheme for short term lets in England will be available for LAs. The Use Classes Order will be reviewed so it enables LAs to take better control of changes of use to short term lets if they wish.

For a copy of the levelling up and regeneration Bill – please click here Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill – Parliamentary Bills – UK Parliament

Our reaction:

Gove’s proposals could well result in a significant reduction in the delivery of housing. Removing national housing targets by delegating the determination of the required numbers of homes to LAs, increasing restrictions on Green Belt land and agricultural land whilst highlighting the need to avoid a change of character could all conspire against new development whilst giving extra power to ‘NIMBYism’.

However, there remains a housing crisis in the UK, which is a fact recognised by all politicians and professionals alike, and it will only get worse. There is also currently an economic crisis and impacts of climate change. Any responsible government must prioritise these issues.

It is our view that whilst Sunak struggles to unite his party by keeping the backbench rebels on housing targets happy, there will be those who recognise that Gove’s proposals are not the answer to solving three major problems in our society today; a lack of homes, an economic crisis and the need to address climate change.

We believe that there is a requirement for housing targets to incentivise the LAs to make provision for the much-needed homes. We also continue to believe that the solution is to embrace change in the way we deliver housing for future generations. This can be achieved by providing new sustainable, low carbon communities which are based on sustainable infrastructure from the outset. Such settlements will help address the housing need crisis in a manner which helps us move quickly to a low carbon environment.