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‘Little Hope For Planning Reform Anytime Soon’

Posted by UK Property Forums on 17th May 2022 -

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Politics looks set to stifle planning reform in the view of some of our Thames Tap partners.

We asked for responses to the Queen’s Speech, delivered by Prince Charles on Tuesday, May 10, in which planning reform, promising ‘to give residents more involvement in local development’, was announced along with reforms to transport and residential rents.

And there was plenty of scepticism over whether the Government can achieve its initial intentions.

Mike Shearn, chief operating officer for Haslams Estate Agent, said: “The promise of the much-needed radical changes to the planning system to overcome issues such as nimbyism seems to have been, somewhat ironically, watered-down in response to popularism in the wake of the Chesham & Amersham by-election result.

“As a consequence, it looks very unlikely that the housing question will be answered any time soon. If anything, it may actually put the brakes on the building of new homes because further planning hurdles and more financial contributions will undermine viability.

“The populist rhetoric also continues (unhelpfully) to paint all developers and landlords as the bad guys. As Reading’s largest new homes and lettings agent, we know that the overwhelming majority are actually very good and conscientious.

“An example of such legislation is the Abolishment of Section 21 Notice – often called the no fault eviction. To protect tenants from rogue landlords, this legislation will place more constraints on all landlords, although anti-social behaviour, rent arrears, selling or moving back will thankfully be unaffected. It’s important to remember landlords don’t give notice to tenants who look after the property and pay their rent on time.

“Ending on a positive, a new web site will be introduced to advise landlords of their legal obligations and will be designed to resolve disputes in order to avoid going to court. In time, we believe that it could act as a register to inform local authorities which landlords are operating in their area and help enforcement of rogue landlords. Only time will tell but this could really help the levelling-up of standards through improved visibility and policing of rogue landlords.”

Hugo Haig, director of Lochailort, said: “We love the virtue signalling and the laudable sound bites and it says a lot when Gove had to go back to a scheme (Poundbury in Dorset) that was started in 1993 to launch his new dynamic plan. I am not knocking Poundbury, in fact, we have emulated it at our scheme at Norton St Philip.

“It is all well and good having these good intentions but not when the people you rely upon granting the permissions work at one mile an hour and the system, that’s the gatekeeper to delivery, is broken.”

David Jones, managing director of Evans Jones, said: “Whilst Boris (Johnson) stated that the planning system is broken and unfit for purpose, it appears that he is not carrying his party with him and back benchers perhaps worried about middle England voters have significantly watered down the sweeping changes set out in the planning White Paper publicised in 2020.

“We, thus, have further tinkering with the system, with planning yet again being a political football with no real appetite to address deep-rooted issues within the system.”

Karen Jones, partner and head of planning and environmental law at Blandy & Blandy, said: “The planning reform is tinkering again and not all for the better. The explanatory notes say that the new system will be based on the principles of beauty, infrastructure, democracy, environment and neighbourhood engagement.

“How those will translate remains uncertain. One proposal is to limit the scope of Local Plans to ‘locally specific matters’. General policies on issues that apply in most areas will be national and in a suite of national development management policies, which will have the same weight so that they are fully taken into account in decisions. Local Plans will not be able to repeat these.”

Ifti Maniar, planning director for WWA, said: “Finally, we have got something to talk about, following the long hiatus after the publication of the planning White Paper back in the Autumn of 2020.

“The draft bill, as published the day after the Queen’s Speech is 338 pages long, so there will be lots more to come following the wider analysis of the text as it makes its way through Parliament.

“There are some very interesting points already apparent from even a quick review. The jockeying for position between Local Development Plans and national policy is an interesting change, given that national policy has always trumped Local Plan making, but the Government have gone further by expressly stating Local Plans must not repeat national policy.

“This could lessen the burden on the Local Plan making process but also crucially allow significant policy change to be implemented far more quickly and without local determination.

“A renewed focus on localism is a big part of the presentation of the draft bill and was predicted by the national press following comments from Gove et al prior to the Queen’s Speech on Tuesday.

“Quite how Street Votes will work in practice is still up for grabs, but what is clear is a change in tone from Government who are keen to stress they are listening to the electorate and want to deliver what people actually want in their area.

“It is of course a good thing we live in a society where you can have a legitimate say on what goes on in your patch, but I fear these proposals will do little to ease an ongoing housing crisis. It appears the balance between individual and national interests are a long way from being resolved by way of measures contained in the draft bill text.

“My final takeaway is on renewed burdens on both developers (national infrastructure levy) and local authorities (design codes). There is no mention of a renewed funding mechanism for local authority planning departments, but a requirement for ‘all local planning authorities to have a design code in place covering their entire area’. No small feat, given existing pressures facing planning departments. Expect widespread adoption of the National Model Design Code in the first instance.

“Other than delivery of housing and design, the bill also covers other planning areas such as environment, the planning process, enforcement and protection of heritage. There is much more to come on the planning reform in the coming months as the bill is debated in the House of Commons.”

Brian Dowling, partner at Boyes Turner, said: “Firstly, community land auctions are being proposed as a means of bringing forward land for development. A landowner would put land forward for allocation under an emerging Local Plan, and offer the local authority an option to buy it.

“The local authority then assigns that option to a developer, and keeps the difference between the option price and the price the developer pays. So the uplift is kept by the council to pay for local services. It isn’t clear if this is seen as the way forward for allocation of all greenfield development land, or as a scheme that may work in particular areas.

“It’s difficult, at first glance, to see how this is better for landowners than the current open market system but more details should emerge in future. At the moment, this is a proposal in the supporting papers to the bill, not draft law.

“Secondly, the bill includes proposed draft laws on compulsory rental auctions.

“Councils will have the power to make landlords of vacant high street commercial premises let them out within two months of receiving a notice, or give the council the right to have the premises let to the highest bidder.

“The bill includes powers for the council to prepare the agreement for tenancy and the form of tenancy and enter into it in the name of the landlord. The council will automatically have the deemed consent of any superior landlord/freeholder and any lender. The powers seem to only relate to designated streets, so it isn’t clear yet whether they could apply to shopping centres or out of town retail.

“Government have said that they want to consult with councils and the commercial property industry on how this can operate fairly. This seems draconian, but context is everything. Obviously, landlords don’t want empty buildings any more than shoppers want to walk past empty shops.

“It may be that on further reflection this is a power that councils would only rationally deploy in badly struggling high streets that are in mixed private ownership where there is a real drive from start ups or community groups to fill empty space that landlords aren’t responding to.”

Colin Brown, head of planning & development at Carter Jonas, said: “While the principles behind levelling up are laudable, there are some significant hurdles which may prevent it from being achieved through this proposed legislation.

“An obvious one is the potential conflict between a more top-down approach to devising regional or country strategies determining levels of planned growth, against the stated intention to give local residents greater say on how much development takes place, where it occurs and what it might look like in aesthetic terms.

“Another issue is the speed: while the fast and efficient delivery of homes and other aspects of regeneration is clearly a priority, many of the changes proposed run the risk of lengthening the process.

“Simplifying and standardising the process for Local Plans so that they are produced more quickly and are easier for communities to influence. Currently, even with the existing timeframes, Local Plan production invariably takes longer than intended, so I think we would all welcome the process being quicker.

“The key question is how this can be achieved. The planning White Paper proposed that Local Plans should be delivered within three years and with a precise timetable, but with many local authorities lacking resources we question how this would be possible.

“The process could be streamlined through a more consistent adoption of national policy in Local Plans without actual repetition. In reality, many Local Plans simply expand upon and promulgate national policy whilst applying a local slant. This process can cause delays in both appeals and inquiries as policy intent is debated at length, often unnecessarily.

“The omission of any reference to the Green Belt from the Levelling up and Regeneration Bill is notable. Green Belt reform is long overdue, especially in areas where development is constrained unnecessarily by Green Belt restrictions and young people find it impossible to get on the housing ladder.

“I firmly champion a review of Green Belt policy and had hoped that this issue would have made it onto the Government’s agenda. Its absence from the bill is disappointing, particularly bearing in mind that it is very often Green Belt areas which experience the highest and most pressing levels of housing need.”

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Matthew Battle

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