Communities Secretary, Michael Gove, has announced changes to the planning system, responding to amendment NC21 tabled by Theresa Villiers MP to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill. This was backed by 60 MPs and led to the Government postponing votes on the Bill to allow time for negotiations between backbench MPs and Ministers.
Following intensive discussions last week involving Theresa Villiers, Bob Seely, MP for the Isle of Wight, and Mr Gove and his team, a set of proposals were published yesterday to be implemented via changes to the National Planning Policy Framework.
Welcoming Mr Gove’s plans, Theresa Villiers said: “These reforms will help rebalance the planning system and give local communities a greater say over what is built in their neighbourhood.”
“I have been campaigning for change because housing targets are creating pressure on councils to accept overdevelopment damaging to the environment.”
“Building a coalition of over 100 MPs, I tabled amendments to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill. In response the Government postponed the vote and has now come forward with significant concessions. These will give local communities a greater say over what is built in their neighbourhood.”
“Ministers have listened and will amend planning rules so that councils which are subject to genuine constraints will be permitted to reduce their target. This will apply if meeting the centrally determined target would significantly change the character of an area, for example from suburban to high-rise urban.”
“The compromise which I, and colleagues such as Bob Seely, have secured shows that positive change can be achieved through backbench scrutiny of legislation. It will help communities and councils who are battling against bad development. Targets will be advisory, not mandatory. The power of planning inspectors is weakened. New powers to set design codes will give councils greater control over matters such as density, scale and height.”
“This compromise will give us a better planning system and help deliver the right homes in the right places.”
Key elements of the reforms include:
- A consultation on changes to NPPF will be published by Christmas. A revised NPPF to be ready in time for Royal Assent for the Bill. This will bring forward changes that will rebalance the planning system to give local communities a greater say in what is built in their neighbourhoods.
- Centrally determined targets to be advisory - a “starting point, a guide that is not mandatory”.
- Councils to be allowed to depart from the central determination of local housing need if there are genuine constraints on delivering it - for example if they would have to build at a density which would significantly change the character of an area to meet the target. The concept of “exceptional circumstances”, which already exists in the planning system, will be expanded to cover more cases.
- This will mean that if the centrally determined target would involve building at a density that would lead to significant loss of rural or suburban character, the council can set a lower number. If the density of development required would be too high for a rural or low-rise suburban environment, the target can be reduced. This is not limited to green belt concerns, although those protections are acknowledged and strengthened.
- Up to now, the planning inspectorate have in almost all cases refused to accept that exceptional circumstances are present and indicated that the full target must be met. Their power to do this will be curbed.
- Inspectors will no longer be asked to consider if the plan is ‘justified’. Inspectors will have to take a more reasonable and pragmatic approach. Where local authorities come forward with reasonable plans for lower numbers which reflect concerns of their communities and local constraints, the inspectorate will be have to accept them. There will be a lower bar for councils to get over.
- Transitional arrangements will be designed to allow councils to benefit from these new flexibilities as soon as practically possible. Councils currently making a plan will have two years to produce amended plans, if they want to use these new flexibilities. London will be included in this reform.
- The obligation to have a five year land supply will not apply if there is a valid up-to-date plan in place. The presumption of sustainable development (or “tilted balance”) will be disapplied in these cases. So the ‘developer free-for-all’ can no longer operate where there is a valid plan. This means that all councils without plans should make a plan as soon as possible.
- When it comes to individual planning applications, new design codes will give councils a greater say over them. They will give councils stronger powers to specify the type of housing they want, and put in place standards on matters such as scale, height, bulk and character.
- The requirement for a 20% buffer to be dropped. This effectively meant councils having to identify development sites for six years of supply, not five, raising the numbers required still further.
- Councils which have delivered well in past years can take this into account in the number they propose for the future in their plans. This will mitigate the problem whereby councils delivering many homes get hit by even higher targets.
- Greater account to be taken in the plan-making process of permissions granted, even if they are not yet built out. Councils should not be penalised in the housing delivery test (ie hit with the presumption for development/’tilted balance’ for failing to show a five year land supply) if they have granted sufficient permissions but these have not been built.
- Councils will be allowed to introduce registration schemes for short term holiday lets and there will be a consultation on allowing them to require a change of use planning application if there is a switch from residential to short term “Air B&B” use.
- A reference to the importance of farmland and food security to be added to the NPPF.
- Measures to address landbanking and a character test:
- developers to report on progress on build-out;
- consultation on financial penalties for failing to build, potentially escalating over time;
- consultation on giving councils power to turn down applications where developers have not built out on the same site, or in the local area, in the past;
- consultation to consider whether (and if so, how) councils should be given powers to refuse applications from developers on the basis of their character and prior conduct.
- The new infrastructure levy will enable councils to charge more for greenfield development to provide an incentive to opt for brownfield land. Regeneration funding for regional city centres will help deliver housing there. Compulsory purchase powers will be made easier to use to unlock more regeneration projects to deliver housing in urban areas.
- Further work will be done on prioritising development on brownfield sites and also on getting space above shops into residential use.
- The duty to cooperate will end, so cities can no longer push out their housing obligations out to neighbouring rural and small town areas.
- The NPPF to be amended to set out the expected scope of National Development Management Policies (NDMPs). Each NDMP to be consulted on.
- Councils to have more flexibility on fees charged to developers to better resource the planning system.