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30/06/2020

Johnson outlines plans to change the use classes order

Words: Laura Edgar

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has set out new regulations that will see buildings and land changing use without planning permission, with a policy paper due in July outlining how ‘England’s seven-decade-old planning system will be reformed for modern society’.

Under the new rules, existing commercial properties, such as newly vacant shops, would be “more easily” converted into housing. The measures are aimed at making it easier to create new homes and regenerate vacant buildings.

These measures form part of his government’s plan to level up the country and help the UK recover from the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic – to “build back better, build back greener, build back faster”.

The changes to the planning system are among a series of measures set out by Johnson in a speech today (30 June). The UK cannot “continue simply to be prisoners of this crisis”, he said.

“I believe it is absolutely vital for us now to set out the way ahead so that everyone can think and plan for the future – short, medium and long term because if the Covid crisis has taught us one thing it is that this country needs to be ready for what may be coming and we need to be able to move with levels of energy and speed that we have not needed for generations.”

Johnson attributed the reasons for why the country is “so slow at building homes” compared with Europe to “the newt-counting delays in our system [which] are a massive drag on the productivity and the prosperity of this country”.

He said the government would invest in and accelerate infrastructure across the UK as well as promote a clean, green recovery and strengthen the union and local government.

“All of these changes will make life better for the people of this great country and unleash Britain’s potential.”

The prime minister said the measures sound like a New Deal because that is how it is meant to sound, because the times demand it. “It is time now not just for a New Deal, but a Fair Deal for the British people.”

Chancellor Rishi Sunak is set to outline more of the recovery plan next week. In the forthcoming Spending Review and Autumn Budget, the government intends to set the direction for the rest of this Parliament.

Planning

The changes set out by the government would see more types of commercial premises having “total flexibility” to be repurposed by reforming the use classes order. Through permitted development rights, a building used for retail could be permanently used as a café or office without requiring planning permission. 

According to the government, pubs, libraries, village shops and other types of uses “essential to the lifeblood of communities” would not be covered by these flexibilities.

Under the regulations, builders now won’t need to seek planning permission to demolish and rebuild vacant and redundant residential and commercial buildings if they are rebuilt as homes. Also, a wider range of commercial buildings would be allowed to become residential properties without the need for a planning application.

If a property owner wants to build additional space above their properties, they would now be able to through a fast-track approval process – subject to neighbour consultation.

The measures are due to come into effect by September. 

The government says these would “both support the high street revival by allowing empty commercial properties to be quickly repurposed and reduce the pressure to build on greenfield land by making brownfield development easier”.

Johnson said work would start on investigating how government-owned land can be managed more effectively, while a new cross-government strategy would consider how public sector land can be managed and released for better use, such as for homes or improving the environment.

In July, the government added, it would launch a policy paper setting out its plan for “comprehensive reform of England’s seven-decade-old planning system, to introduce a new approach that works better for our modern economy and society”.

Alongside the planning reforms, the government set out how it would support housebuilding in England. The measures include:

  • A £12 billion affordable homes programme that would support up to 180,000 new affordable homes for ownership and rent over the next eight years, announced in Budget 2020.
  • As part of the affordable homes programme, there would be a 1,500 unit pilot of ‘First Homes – the houses would be sold to first-time buyers at a 30 per cent discount, which would remain in perpetuity.
  • Funds from the £400 million Brownfield Land Fund have been allocated to the West Midlands, Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire, Liverpool City Region, Sheffield City Region, North of Tyne and Tees Valley combined authorities to support about 24,000 homes.
  • The Home Building Fund would be increased by £450 to help smaller developers access finance for new housing development. This is expected to support the delivery of 7,200 new homes.

Infrastructure

In the 2020 Budget, Sunak announced that the second Road Investment Strategy (RIS2) would spend £27 billion between now and 2025 – and promised cash for mayoral combined authorities to invest in public transport.

Today, the government explains that it is “redoubling” its efforts to get on with this now by bringing forward £5 billion of capital investment projects to support jobs and the economic recovery.

This includes:

  • £100 million this year for 29 projects to improve the road network, such as bridge repairs in Sandwell and improving the A15 in the Humber region. 
  • £10 million to unblock the Manchester rail bottleneck, which would begin this year.
  • £1 billion to fund the first 50 projects of a new, 10-year school rebuilding programme, starting from 2020/21. These projects would be confirmed in the autumn, with construction on the first sites to start in September 2021.
  • £900 million for a range of “shovel-ready” local growth projects in England over the course of this year and 2021, so local areas can invest in priority infrastructure projects to drive local growth and jobs, such as the regeneration of key local sites.
  • £96 million for town centres and high streets from the Towns Fund this year. This would provide all 101 towns selected for town deals with £500,000 to £1 million to spend on projects such as improvements to parks, high streets, and transport.

The government intends to set up a new infrastructure delivery task force called ‘Project Speed’, to be led by Sunak. It would bring forward proposals to deliver the government’s public investment projects more strategically and efficiently. 

The task force would aim to cut down the time it takes to develop, design and deliver vital infrastructure projects, including identifying how to address outdated practices and identify blocks to progress.

This autumn the government will publish its long-awaited National Infrastructure Strategy.

Funding, the government says, would be brought forward to accelerate infrastructure projects in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland – working with the devolved administrations to identify where “we can get spades in the ground, build our communities, and create jobs faster for citizens across the United Kingdom”. Work will be done on how to better connect the four countries by road, rail, air and sea.

The green bit

The government explained that it would continue to build on its “proven-track record of cutting emissions” to deliver “a stronger, cleaner, more sustainable economy after this pandemic”. 

Measures announced today include:

  • Additional funding would be available this year to attract investment in ‘gigafactories’ to mass-produce batteries and other electric vehicle components.
  • £10 million of funding immediately for the first wave of R&D projects to scale up manufacturing of the latest technology in batteries, motors, electronics and fuel cells.
  • Reforesting Britain by planting 75,000 acres of trees every year by 2025.
  • A £40 million Green Recovery Challenge Fund to help to halt biodiversity loss and tackle climate change through local conservation projects, connecting more people to the outdoors by delivering up to 5,000 jobs.

The government also said it would continue to set out further measures as part of its green agenda in the run-up to COP26 in November 2021.

Image credit | Shutterstock

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