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Automatic planning permission for brownfield land

Words: Laura Edgar
Brownfield land / Roger Smith

New policy announced by the government today will see automatic planning permission granted on brownfield sites in an attempt to raise the productivity of the economy.

The new document, Fixing The Foundations: Creating A More Prosperous Nation (pdf), also includes the right for major infrastructure that features housing elements to be submitted to the Nationally Significant Infrastructure regime.

Chancellor George Osborne and business secretary Sajid Javid unveiled the second half to Wednesday’s Budget today in Birmingham.

Osborne said he wants residents in London to be able to build extra storeys on their properties without planning approval from their local council.

Speaking at the launch, Javid said a new “zonal system” will give automatic planning permission for all suitable brownfield sites.

He added: “If a council fails to produce a suitable local plan, we’ll have it done it for them.”

Local authorities will also be penalised if they make 50 per cent or fewer planning decisions on time.

Fixing The Foundations also states that the government will deliver its commitment to build 200,000 Starter Homes by 2020. Local authorities will be required to “plan proactively” for their delivery.

The mayors of London and Manchester will be given more powers over land, among other devolution powers, while the document sets out stronger compulsory purchase order powers to bring forward brownfield land.

“Unlike previous governments, we’re going to grasp the nettle of airport capacity in the south-east, taking a decision by the end of the year” - Sajid Javid

At the launch, Javid said transport links are vital to “any serious, growing economy.”

Therefore, he said, over the next five years, the government will “invest £100 billion in infrastructure.”

This investment includes a roads fund, funded, financed from Vehicle Exercise Duty, getting the “rail investment programme back onto a sustainable footing” and change the way public money is provided so that “Network Rail focuses firmly on the needs of train operators and passengers,” Javid said.

Fixing the Foundations also states that the government will introduce a new approach to station redevelopment and land sales on the rail network. It will establish a dedicated body that will focus on "pursuing opportunities to realised value from publi land and property assets in the rail network." This, the document says, will maximise benefit to local communities as well as reduce the burden of public debt.

Image courtesy of Roger Smith


“Central and local government need to prioritise planning within their spending plan in order to deliver vital housing through local plans. It is encouraging that  the government remains committed to the plan-led system and to community involvement. We welcome proposals to speed up plans and will continue to discuss these with government, but are under no illusion that close attention to the real drivers behind the issue of speed and commitment must be paid. The  reasons for slow local plan delivery are complex”.

Janet Askew, president of the Royal Town Planning Institute

"The lack of available developable land and delays in - and cost of - the planning system are the biggest barrier to the country building the homes it needs. If the industry is to increase supply closer to the level needed we need more land to come through the system more quickly.

"Speeding up the rate at which planning applications on previously developed land are processed and closing the gap between central government ambition and local authority performance is key.

“Increasing build rates will provide people with decent housing and boost the economy.”

Stewart Baseley executive chairman, Home Builders Federation

“The raft of planning announcements today really hit the nail on the head for a number of planning issues. We are particularly pleased to see a commitment to bring forward brownfield land for redevelopment and also the focus on local plans, as the absence of such is a real block to local growth.

“In order for these changes to make a difference, however, we strongly urge government to begin a dialogue with both the public and private sectors on how to address the severe shortage of funds which is afflicting local planning departments.

“We warmly welcome the government’s recognition of how a functioning and efficient planning system can contribute to the UK’s growth by creating not just new homes, but also the infrastructure that supports great places.”

Melanie Leech, chief executive, British Property Federation

"The greatest challenge to developing on brownfield land isn't the speed of the planning process, but remediation costs and the sometimes awkward shape and location of sites. Granting automatic permissions in certain areas may just result in a whole wave of ill-considered developments. The quality of new housing stock is just as important of the quantity.

"Plans to sanction councils who fail to process planning permissions fast enough only exacerbates a problem in part created by cuts to planning departments. Increased funding for planners is absolutely essential to improving housing delivery.

"Powers to intervene in local development plans on the other hand may prove beneficial, if exercised with care. Local and central government need to work together, and not against each other, if we are to fix our housing crisis."

Charles Mills, head of planning, Daniel Watney

“This is a very positive announcement, but as with previous announcements about simplifying the planning system, which have only had limited impact, the devil will be in the detail.

“Automatic consent will terrify the only recently empowered localism lobby, and the success of such sweeping changes will be the balancing of those important parts of the localism agenda such as the quality, and meeting local need, with the wider socioeconomic benefits of quicker and simpler development.”

Steve Sanham, development director, HUB

“Compulsory purchase powers are a vital tool to assist developers and unlock opportunities for private investment. They are too little utilised by local authorities and we would urge government to make the regime faster and fairer when it is reformed in the autumn.

“However, the compensation review must also be fair to claimants, as larger schemes and complex infrastructure projects create years of general blight in the ‘shadow’ period before the land is acquired, with no current remedy for affected owners.”

Chris Selway, senior director, BNP Paribas Real Estate

“The rallying cry from many campaigners, and now the government, appears to be that there is no need to build on greenfield sites when there is a plethora of vacant or derelict previously developed sites in our towns and cities, just waiting to be regenerated for housing.

“Clearly, it’s important that brownfield land is used where it is suitable for housing and can be viably developed, but based on NLP’s analysis development of brownfield land this will not solve this problem.

“Whilst the development of green belt sites for housing may not be palatable to all, this cannot be avoided and must be embraced if the country is to thrive. 

"Tough policy choices are required. In some areas release of green belt is required alongside development on brownfield land. If government continues to shy away from this issue the housing crisis cannot be addressed."

James Fennell, managing director, Nathaniel Lichfield & Partners

“While the TCPA shares the government’s commitment and ambition for housing growth, we are concerned by today’s announcements about the significant changes to planning law.

“Taken together, the measures announced further deregulate planning and risk marginalising communities.

“The decision to give automatic planning permission to sites on brownfield land seriously undermines the ability for genuine placemaking, and risks creating the slums of the future. After all, without planning how can we bring forward high-quality new communities which are accessible, affordable and sustainable?

“We strongly believe that planning, when correctly and responsibly implemented, has the power to deliver outstanding outcomes and multiple benefits to our society. However, the persistent deregulation of the planning system is removing this power and is damaging our ability to deliver the high-quality places that we desperately need.”

Kate Henderson, chief executive, Town Country Planning Association

“The finer detail of any residential development will still require detailed consideration such as design, access and planning obligations and therefore the level of certainty provided will be more limited than many may first think. However, the assurance that a brownfield site is acceptable for residential development at a density consistent with national planning policy will remove a major hurdle for landowners and developers.”

Karen Charles, head of DTZ’s planning team

“The ‘localism’ approach and reticence to deal with regional housing targets led the coalition government to focus too much on demand-side incentives. It’s a relief to see Osborne now focusing on the supply side of the market and attempting to deal with the failings of the system, but what he is proposing here is no quick fix.

“There is no doubt that many local authorities have struggled with plan-making in recent years, often because there has been a lack of resources and because there are no clear targets. As a result, few council leaders have had to tell the residents of their local authority that sites need to be found for large numbers of new homes.

“The measures introduced today still do not address this and the inadequate co-ordination of housing numbers across the regions as the “duty to cooperate” has never looked like the solution required.

Stuart Robinson, chairman of UK planning, CBRE

“Relaxing permitted development rights may well do something to increase housing supply in limited cases, but it doesn't really scratch the surface of the current housing crisis.

“We cautiously support the principle of introducing a new zonal system focused on delivering more development on brownfield sites, but to provide the 240,000 new homes per year that are needed we will need both significant greenfield and brownfield land releases. The Government’s own statistics indicate brownfield land can only deliver 200,000 new homes by 2020 – 17% of the new homes needed over the next five years.

Adam Ross, executive director at Nexus Planning