Robert Jenrick

Property industry reacts to landmark planning reforms



Housing secretary Robert Jenrick (pictured above) has today (6th August) set out plans to overhaul the country’s outdated planning system and transform the way the country builds.

Proposals have been put forward in the white paper, Planning for the future, which was published today.

The “most significant reforms to housing policy in decades” aims to deliver the high-quality, sustainable homes communities need.

The landmark changes are set to improve a system that has long been criticised for being too sluggish in providing housing for families, key workers and young people, and too ineffectual in obligating developers to properly fund the infrastructure — such as schools, roads and GP surgeries — to support them.

The current system has shown itself to be unfavourable to small businesses, with the proportion of new homebuilding they lead on dropping drastically from 40% 30 years ago to just 12% today.

The changes are expected to be a major boost to SME builders currently cut off by the planning process. 

“Our complex planning system has been a barrier to building the homes people need; it takes seven years to agree local housing plans and five years just to get a spade in the ground,” said Jenrick.

“These once-in-a generation reforms will lay the foundations for a brighter future, providing more homes for young people and creating better quality neighbourhoods and homes across the country. 

“We will cut red tape, but not standards, placing a higher regard on quality, design and the environment than ever before. 

“Planning decisions will be simple and transparent, with local democracy at the heart of the process.

“As we face the economic effects of the pandemic, now is the time for decisive action and a clear plan for jobs and growth. 

“Our reforms will create thousands of jobs, lessen the dominance of big builders in the system, providing a major boost for small building companies across the country.”

Planning

The reforms will mean:

  • local communities will be consulted from the very beginning of the planning process. By harnessing the latest technology through online maps and data, the whole system will be made more accessible
  • valued green spaces will be protected for future generations by allowing for more building on brownfield land and all new streets to be tree lined
  • much-needed homes will be built quicker by ensuring local housing plans are developed and agreed in 30 months – down from the current seven years
  • every area to have a local plan in place – currently only 50% of local areas has a plan to build more homes
  • the planning process to be overhauled and replaced with a clearer, rules-based system. Currently around a third of planning cases that go to appeal are overturned 
  • a new simpler national levy to replace the current system of developer contributions which often causes delay
  • the creation of a fast-track system for beautiful buildings and establishing local design guidance for developers to build and preserve beautiful communities
  • all new homes to be ‘zero carbon ready’, with no new homes delivered under the new system needed to be retrofitted as we achieve our commitment to net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The housing secretary has also confirmed that the First Homes scheme will provide newly-built homes at a 30% discount for local people, key workers and first-time buyers.
 
The discount will be locked into the home in perpetuity, ensuring future buyers can continue to benefit from it.

In addition, Section 106 agreements and the Community Infrastructure Levy will be replaced with a new Infrastructure Levy that will be a fixed proportion of the value of the development, above a set threshold, helping to deliver more affordable housing.

Following the publication of Planning for the future, the government will now consult with planners, lawyers and local government experts on the proposals, as well as interest groups and residents.

Property industry reacts to major planning reform proposals

“These reforms will allow housebuilders to get to work, supporting supply chains, and more flexible, local labour markets around the country,” stated Matthew Fell, CBI chief UK policy director.

“Delivering high quality, safe and environmentally-friendly new homes is critical for meeting our climate targets while accelerating regional growth and tackling inequality. 

“Affordability of future housing supply must remain at the forefront of these efforts.”

“The renewed commitment to building 300,000 new homes a year is an important goal and will be aided by these new initiatives,” added James Thomson, CEO at Gleeson Homes.

“The permission in principle initiative will help us to fast-track hundreds of new affordable homes for first-time buyers and essential workers on lower incomes who are eager to get a foot on the property ladder.
 
“Not only will these reforms go some way to supporting local SME housebuilders and their supply chains, but they will also help to level up the country through increased infrastructure investment, bringing jobs and homes to the north.”

Paul Oberschneider, CEO and founder of Hilltop Credit Partners, stated: “Planning law reforms will prove to be another shot in the arm for the housing market. 

“However, all this early show of confidence could hit a major roadblock if housing developers fail to get access to development finance in a timely fashion.
 
“A recent CBRE report shows how development finance availability in the UK has contracted since the Covid-19 outbreak, with fewer lenders considering new opportunities and most focusing on their existing loan books. 

“A potential second wave could further exacerbate this situation and funding may dry up even more.
 
“For a developer, this will mean reduced access to capital, [and] likely increased costs due to involvement of different lenders since one lender will not stretch enough when it comes to providing funds required for the development.” 

Brian Berry, chief executive at the FMB, added: “We need a simpler and more responsive planning system, but I am clear that this shouldn’t compromise the quality of the homes that are built. 

“Master Builders compete on quality, not on price, and have an important role to play in a more diverse housing market. 

“We must also ensure local planning authorities are supported to respond to these changes, so that any shake up doesn’t lead to further short-term delays in applications. 

“If we get this right, making it easier for SME housebuilders to play a role, [it] will help support jobs, provide training opportunities for apprentices, and lead to higher quality, green homes that are fit for the future.”

John Carter, commercial director for commercial real estate at Aldermore, commented: “We welcome the government’s planning white paper to help modernise the planning system, ensuring it supports the delivery of the homes that local communities need. 

“To help inform the housing strategy, we would encourage the government to consider the recommendations set out in the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for SME House Builders report on ways to improve the planning system in the UK. 
  
“We now need SMEs more than ever if the UK is to achieve the government’s target of building 300,000 new homes a year.”

Mike Derbyshire, head of planning at Bidwells, commented: "Green belts are still strangling our cities and the continued refusal of the government to countenance freeing up the green belt for residential and commercial development risks stunting the growth of our fastest growing towns and cities … which will be vital for our post-pandemic recovery.

"And while it would be an absolute  game-changer if the government really does ensure local housing plans are developed and agreed in 30 months — down from the current seven years — there will still likely be under these proposals the age-old problem of local political indifference and, in some cases, outright hostility towards allocating housing through a local plan.

“’Local democracy’ is key to successful placemaking, but the phrase needs to be redefined and recalibrated; imposed and unpopular development will breed local discontent but democracy as we currently know it within the planning process is much too narrow with too few view voices dominating local debate. 

“The term needs to be much broader in its reach to be genuinely described as democratic. 

“The digital revolution in lockdown has shown how this can be achieved.”

Steven Charlton, managing director at Perkins and Will, said that in its Radical Regeneration Manifesto released in late 2019, it outlined how the potential of data and emerging digital technology was key to successful and sustainable future regeneration. 

“We are delighted to see the government is wielding the power of technology and ready to engage with communities from day one to build a comprehensive picture of what people want through engagement before we design and deliver the developments of tomorrow.”

Mary-Anne Bowring, group managing director at Ringley, stated: “While a lot will depend on the local plans and design codes that are adopted, the zonal based system — earmarking land for growth, renewal or protection — will help with the reshaping of town and city centres across the country, which will need repurposing post-pandemic as we adapt to new ways of working, living and shopping.

“One disappointing element to the government’s planning white paper is the continued focus on first-time buyers, with nothing on how to boost the supply of rental housing, despite private renters being the fastest growing part of the housing market. 

“Having already abolished stamp duty for most first-time buyers and introduced a stamp duty holiday generally, the government should look to scrap the additional levy on BTL investors, who still provide the mainstay of private rented accommodation.

“The government should also be encouraging institutional investors such as pension funds and insurers, who previously would have invested in offices and shopping centres, to fund the creation of purpose-built rental housing.”

Dinah Patel, a planning lawyer at Fieldfisher Birmingham, said that the emphasis on developing brownfield sites ought to prove popular with communities, as will the power to designate areas for protection from development.

“…However, it is unclear how the proposals will tackle the problem of land banking, which has seen many sites lie vacant for several years.

“This should not just be about developing more houses on the edge of cities and towns, but should be viewed in the context of wider planning reforms.

“New legislation that comes into force in England on 1st September 2020 will permit vacant buildings in already developed areas to be demolished and replaced with new dwelling houses, which should help combat the UK's housing crisis by delivering more houses at a faster rate, through sidestepping the need to obtain planning permission in the traditional way. 

“This may help bring residents back into town and city centres and enable people to live close to where they work, easing pressure on infrastructure and hopefully converting some previously commercial areas into more sustainable mixed development areas.”

Pete Ladhams, managing director at Assael Architecture, said: "Local design codes setting a vision for high-quality development have the potential to bridge the chasm between a planning system that is fast and efficient and one that commands local support. 

“But key to their success will be crucial decisions over who creates the design codes, who judges new development against them, and how the system is policed. 

“Ministers have much to consider during the forthcoming consultation; it’s absolutely critical that there are systems in place to monitor and ensure good design."

Eugene Marchese, co-founder of Guild Living, added: “In the rush to build, we must not forget the needs of people in later life, who face a worsening shortage of high-quality later living accommodation that can support their health and wellbeing, and provide them with tailored care, should they need it. 

“As the government consults on how local areas assess and plan to meet their housing needs, it is imperative that the needs of older people are not forgotten. 

“With the right implementation, these reforms create a fantastic opportunity to repurpose town centre sites to create a new generation of retirement homes that restore people in later life to their rightful place at the heart of our communities.”


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