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17/03/2020

Planning reform: Plenty to think about, but more detail required

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Ahead of a planning white paper, communities secretary Robert Jenrick has floated a number of potential reforms to English planning in the form of a new report, Planning for the future. Alex Ground of Russell Cooke Solicitors runs the rule over some of its headline proposals

Brownfield sites

The Register of Brownfield Sites backed by £400m to bring sites back into use sounds ambitious, but further detail is needed on who will be able to access this funding – private owners of such land or only council owners?

Clarity will also be needed regarding what the criteria will be for receiving funding, including size of site, local housing need and the bidding process for site owners. Developers will need access to funds for remediation, construction and all development mitigation costs – all of which should be supported by clear delivery targets to ensure delivery and value for money for the taxpayer.

Permitted development

One of the main criticisms of current permitted development (PD) rights for change of use to residential is quality of design, and the government has already taken steps towards seeking to control design by taking on board the recommendations of the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission. But controlling design and planning is to a large extent the counter-weight to the more laissez-faire approach of permitted development, so it will be interesting to see how the government reconciles this in its forthcoming white paper.

The planning white paper will also need to include detail regarding the grounds on which local planning authorities can refuse to sanction other types of development the government is looking to encourage, including upward expansion.

The other main criticism is that new residential units delivered through permitted development rights escape paying mitigating infrastructure costs, whether through CIL or s106, which is contrasted with those new residential units that need planning permission. Up until now the infrastructure requirements from new residential units created by PD schemes have been relatively limited but if the numbers of residential units to be delivered by PD is ramped up significantly, a mechanism to deliver infrastructure needed from those new units is important.

Even if for policy reasons, the developers using the new PD rights will not have to fund the required infrastructure - and instead it’s publicly funded - there does need to be an assessment of what new infrastructure requirements the development will require.

Local plans and infrastructure

Often local plans stall due to difficult environmental reasons – for example impacts from new development on protected areas and how to allow new development in proximity to such areas without having an adverse impact. More funding will be needed to support councils in sourcing expertise to find mitigation solutions.

Meanwhile, many large new residential schemes in urban areas are resisted due to inadequate new infrastructure. Some of the government’s proposed new funding needs channelling to councils to enable more detailed work on the infrastructure needs which result from new residential schemes, and the early delivery of infrastructure ahead of some of the new housing schemes coming forward.

A classic example would be a new scheme of, say, 500 units in 2-3 blocks of 8-10 storeys. Often the one of the key reasons for locals and local council resisting such schemes is the impact on local road network capacity, local train network capacity and local school provision. If these are upgraded first many of those concerns fall away, smoothing the path to effective delivery.

Alex Ground is partner in the planning team at law firm Russell-Cooke www.russell-cooke.co.uk

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