What does the new Conservative government have in store for the Planning and Development sector?

Over 30 Bills and legislative proposals were included in the Queen's Speech on 19th December. Certain proposals in this ‘to-do list’ as well as the Conservatives’ plan for their first 100 days in power may have significant implications for local government, housing and infrastructure.

Following on from our report on the key 2019 general election manifesto promises affecting the Planning and Development sector, here we set out details of the speech itself, its’ background briefing notes and other government actions so far that the sector needs to know about.

Which of its manifesto pledges has the new government prioritised, and how they will be delivered?

1. Infrastructure

The Conservative manifesto announced plans to ensure that infrastructure for new homes will be complete before they are occupied. This has been carried forward by the announcement of a £10billion “Single Housing Infrastructure” fund to provide “roads, schools and GP surgeries” to “support new homes”. This follows a further manifesto pledge to build “at least a million more homes over this Parliament”.

There will also be a National Infrastructure Strategy alongside the first Budget, setting out plans for £100billion of infrastructure investment and details on long terms plans for “all areas of economic infrastructure including transport, local growth, decarbonisation, digital infrastructure, infrastructure finance and delivery”. 

The only sector-relevant manifesto pledge that has been mentioned in the Conservatives’ 'First 100 Days' press release is the roll out of ‘Gigabit capable broadband across the UK’. It was claimed that the legislation to allow this will be created before the first 100 days of the term have passed – and sure enough: at the time of writing, the 2nd reading of the Telecommunications Infrastructure (Leasehold Property) Bill has already taken place in the Commons, marking a big step closer to super-fast connectivity.

2. Housing

The focus on home ownership in the speech was significant, and we can expect to see the publication of a consultation on a ‘First Homes’ policy that intends to offer “local people and key workers” a discount of at least 30% on homes, funded by developers. The sector should look out for parallels between the consultation proposals and David Camerons’ “Started Homes” initiative, given that the latter failed to gain lenders’ support.

In a press release accompanying the speech, it was mentioned that the Affordable Homes Programme will also be renewed, “building more homes for rent and delivering a new shared ownership offer”.

A social housing white paper will be published, aiming to set out measures to "support the continued supply of social homes" and "improve the quality of social housing".

3. Planning powers and process.

A planning white paper will be published, intending to ‘make the planning process clearer, more accessible and more certain for all users, including homeowners and small businesses’ and well as ‘address resourcing and performance in planning departments’. This is of course not the first time that the Conservatives have confirmed proposals to speed up the planning system. The publication of the Accelerated Planning White Paper was delayed from November 2019 pending the outcome of the election, and it was expected to deal with broadly similar themes: reviewing planning application fees 

and determining how ‘to ensure council planning departments are properly resourced’.

Given this, and the strength of the governments’ new majority, a revival of the 2019 paper seems likely, and the sector could now reasonably expect to see de-regulation of the planning process, beginning with the swift publication of the new paper in the coming months.

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick has already made inroads into his plans to amend the NPPF in order to fast track ‘beautiful’ schemes, which he announced at the launch of the ‘Building Better, Building Beautiful Commissions’ report into  on 30th January 2020.

The briefing note also pledged a devolution white paper within the coming months, as promised in the parties’ manifesto, that will set out plans to devolve powers over transport and planning to a series of newly appointed mayors in England. This is certainly one to watch: a combination and consolidation of local authorities into regional bodies could by and large overhaul the way planning decisions are made.

4. Transport

Whilst the Conservative manifesto was cautious on the future of HS2 (pending reception of the Oakervee review), they have now proposed a bill to create compulsory purchase powers to acquire land for the Birmingham-Crewe phase of the HS2 bill, and “deemed planning permission” for phase 2a of the project.

5. Environment

The Environment Bill has been revived, and it will now require developers to secure biodiversity net gain in all new schemes and council to prepare spatial nature recovery strategies. The former comes as no surprise given that 2019 saw a positive response to DEFRA’s consultation: Biodiversity net gain: updating planning requirements.

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