The key changes, and will it really lead to increased housing numbers?
This article is taken from August's public matters newsletter. Click here to view more articles from this issue.
August has seen a number of major announcements regarding the planning system, the most significant being the government’s Planning for the Future White Paper. The White Paper was published on 6 August and starts a 12-week consultation period until 31 October.
Key changes include:
The proposals in the White Paper, if brought forward, are likely to have a significant impact on the planning system in England. The proposals primarily focus on having up-to-date local plans and providing shortcuts for the grant of planning permission in certain situations. For development types not set out in the plan (the White Paper is almost entirely focused on residential development) then the current planning system will be applicable.
The proposals also create a far more centralised planning system. For example, there will be a single set of planning policies for England and a significantly reduced role for elected councillors. Having a single set of policies is likely to save local planning authorities time and money, whilst providing greater familiarity for developers. There is a concern however that it is wrong to try and have a ‘one size fits all’ approach for the whole of England and that they could be unintended consequences as a result.
The changes to the collection of developer contributions is a radical approach, although insufficient detail has been provided to assess whether it is likely to improve upon the current system. CIL is often criticised for being too inflexible, and the section 106 system can be uncertain and time consuming. However, there is a question of whether setting a national charge is appropriate, when the amount of infrastructure required for different developments can vary dramatically (and is not always linked to site value). There is a risk that the proposed system under provides contributions for some sites, which potentially risks development occurring without sufficient infrastructure (which is undesirable for the existing community, new occupants, and developers (as they need to sell units)).
In addition, the single infrastructure levy, by allowing greater freedoms on how infrastructure money is spent by local authorities (for example by allowing infrastructure money to be spent on non-infrastructure matters such as council tax breaks) also risks separating the infrastructure benefits of development from the communities in which the development takes place. This may increase local opposition to development (although there may be little the opposition can actually do by this stage).
The White Paper proposes ensuring that developer contributions and fees cover the costs of the entire planning system (including local plan making). If the additional funds materialise, this is positive for ensuring the smooth functioning of the planning system (although it may take some time to build the experience and capacity into the planning system as planners will need to be recruited and trained into their new roles).
The focus on local plans is also, in my opinion, positive. Planners have long advocated the importance of good local plans, which has been hindered by both funding cuts and issues of whether developers will implement permissions (and therefore causing concerns regarding deliverability at the inspection stage). These issues look like they might be addressed by the proposed changes.
The digitisation of planning is long overdue, although steps need to be taken to ensure that those less digitally literate can still participate.
However, the reduction in the role of locally elected members, ‘streamlining’ the input from members of the public at the application stage and disconnecting the benefits of planning gain from the local community risks undermining community involvement and support for the planning system in the pursuit of housing numbers.
The proposals are also unclear as to how the ambition of creating high quality, attractive places will be realised, when local authorities appear to be losing control over how their local areas are shaped (especially when combined with the creation of the new use class E).
The devil of course is going to be in the detail, and significant additional detail is required from the government before we can fully appreciate the effect of these proposals.
The White Paper poses some significant changes to the planning system, because, according to Boris Johnson, “what we have now simply does not work”. The primary concern of government is that it is the planning system which is stopping the government reaching its annual housebuilding target (which is over 300,000 houses a year, compared to just 173,660 completed for the year ending June 2019).
However, the Local Government Association highlights that nine out of 10 planning applications are approved by local planning authorities, with more than 1 million homes given planning permission over the last decade yet to be built.
It is therefore unclear whether it is the planning system, or other factors such as labour and materials, which are restricting construction rates. Proposals have not been announced in relation to addressing these potential issues.
The White Paper also suggests increasing the amount of contributions paid by developers. This is unlikely to bring forward those sites where there are viability constraints.
Despite the governments assertions, it remains to be seen whether the planning system is the primary cause of the stubbornly low housebuilding numbers.
If housing numbers don’t dramatically increase after the implementation of the new system, is the government going to continue to blame the planning system or take steps to address other potential issues such as labour and supply chains?
Law firm Browne Jacobson has collaborated with Wiltshire Council and Christ Church Business School on the launch event of The Council Company Best Practice and Innovation Network, a platform which brings together academic experts and senior local authority leaders, allowing them to share best practice in relation to council companies.
In the Autumn Statement delivered on 17 November, rises to the National Living Wage and National Minimum Wage rates were announced, to take effect from 1 April 2023.
Announced in September but scrapped on 17 November the investment zone proposals were very short lived. The proposal has now morphed into the proposal for a smaller number of clustered zones earmarked for investment.
Settlement agreements are commonplace in an employment context and are ordinarily used to provide the parties to the agreement with certainty following the conclusion of an employment relationship.
On 2 November 2022, the Supreme Court handed down its judgment in the much awaiting case of Hillside Parks Ltd v Snowdonia National Park Authority  UKSC 30. The Court’s judgment suggests that the long established practice of using drop-in applications is in fact much more restricted than previously thought. This judgment therefore has significant implications for both the developers and local planning authorities.
In ‘failure to remove’ claims, the claimant alleges abuse in the family home and asserts that the local authority should have known about the abuse and/or that they should have removed the claimant from the family home and into care earlier.
Across the UK, homelessness is an urgent crisis, and one that is set to grow amid the rising cost of living. Local authorities are at the forefront of responding to this crisis, but with a lack of properties that are suitable for social housing across the UK, vulnerable individuals and families are often housed in temporary accommodation.
Updates include UK Shared Prosperity Fund, contracts, Subsidy Control Bill, data controller liability, Government Covid-19 procurement and Highway Code revisions.
The complex and rather nebulous transitional subsidy control regime set out in the UK-EU Trade and Co-operation Agreement and the UK’s wider international commitments has made it difficult for public authorities and those working with them to proceed with certainty where subsidies are involved.
Investment zones have been introduced by the Conservative party to get the United Kingdom (UK) ‘working, building and growing’. They are to be designated sites which provide time-limited tax incentives, streamlined planning rules and wider support for local growth to encourage investment and accelerate the development of housing and infrastructure that the UK needs to drive economic growth. Processes and requirements that slow down development will be stripped back with the intention of attracting new investment.