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04/10/2016

Clarity on planning reforms is urgently needed to drive development activity

New rural housing / Shutterstock_425872609

Following news that smaller property firms are finding it more difficult to identify sites that are suitable for development, regulatory changes are urgently needed to legislate in their favour.

A report (pdf) published by the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) has revealed that smaller property developers are losing out on development opportunities due to a lack of available land and a tendency for planning teams to prioritise larger developments in their local plans. This has led to calls for local authorities to change their approach.

Proposed planning reforms are already in place to speed up the delivery of more housing. The Housing and Planning Act, which gained Royal Assent in May, has set out a radical and far-reaching legal framework to address the housing shortage and encourage home ownership.

The legislation includes a proposal to allow local authorities to grant "permission in principle" to housing developments comprising fewer than 10 properties at the discretion of the local planning authority. It is estimated that this measure will benefit about 7,000 developments a year initially.

While legal clarity has not yet been provided, smaller property developers are broadly in favour of the changes, which should enable them to plan ahead with greater certainty. However, it is not yet known how planning officers/committees will choose to apply their discretion and this could cause problems if local authorities take differing approaches.

In addition, those developers that have set their sights on slightly larger opportunities – comprising 10 to 500 properties – are unlikely to benefit. For these developers, the situation remains the same – they will need to work hard to secure the attention of under-resourced planning teams and as a result, securing financial backing is likely to be more difficult.

Once fully in force, the incoming planning reforms are likely to result in a growing number of small-scale developments completing. However, unless measures are introduced to speed up the planning process for all developments – regardless of size – some larger-scale developments could still be impeded by unnecessary delays.

Bernadette Hillman is a partner and planning law specialist at Shakespeare Martineau.

Image credit | Shuttershock

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