In its response to the government consultation, which closes today (2nd March 2023), the developers’ lobby group argues that the changes to national planning policy ‘actively work against’ the government’s commitment to increasing house-building.
The BPF argues that changes in how local authorities assess housing need, with councils no longer required to demonstrate a five-year housing land supply pipeline if their local plan is less than five years old, will mean there is less urgency in bringing forward residential development.
The BPF also reckons that there are ‘clear contradictions’ between the policy to focus housing delivery in 20 of the UK’s largest town and cities, and the new proposal to water down requirements for local authorities to undertake a green belt review – with most of the urban areas identified for housing growth surrounded by green belt or undeveloped land.
The BPF said that a decline in housing delivery would mean a proportionate decrease in land allocated for employment uses, which in turn would impact economic growth and productivity.
While the BPF supports areas having up-to-date local plans, it said, the current five-year cycle for plan-making means policy cannot keep pace with changes in the economy and demand for workspace. As a result, the demand for industrial and warehouse space, in particular, has been underestimated in planning policy for a decade. The BPF wants the government to introduce more strategic planning for employment space and infrastructure to get such developments brought forward in a more coordinated way.
British Property Federation chief executive Melanie Leech said: “We fully support the government’s aim to harness the planning system to increase housing delivery and drive levelling up but the proposed reforms will only create more delays and obstacles to development at a time when market conditions are already very challenging.
“The proposed changes to how local authorities assess housing need will create less urgency rather than more, and if fewer homes are delivered it follows that less land will be allocated for employment uses. In order to create communities that are truly sustainable we need a planning framework that strikes the right balance between addressing housing need at the local level, and enabling a national strategic approach to employment space and infrastructure.
“We are expecting consultations on planning for logistics space and the infrastructure levy over the course of this year, and while we are pleased to see government engaging fully with industry, the piecemeal nature of planning reform is causing further uncertainty.”
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The proposed planning reforms, for which the Government has consulted industry professionals and experts, have been met with displeasure by the development sector. Developers fear that if the proposed reforms are approved, the structure of the system and the opportunities open to them will be detrimentally impacted.
The Planning Reform Pack, published by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, aims to simplify the planning process to speed up the construction of new homes and infrastructure. Developers, however, claim that while they fully understand the need for a reduction in build programme times, the implementation of some of the proposed reforms may make the system more complex and challenging.
In particular, developers have voiced their concerns about the removal of permitted development rights for larger homes. Under the new rules, applications for larger housing projects of 10 or more units, or over 1,000m2 of commercial development would no longer be allowed under the permitted development route. This could potentially result in increased costs and delays in the build process, and, according to developers, effectively reduce their ability to construct affordable and environmentally sustainable developments.
The impact of the proposals on affordable housing is also a key area of contention. Developers argue that by putting the focus on the profitability of projects, the new rules would put them in a position where they are unable to achieve the required levels of affordable housing or support the community infrastructure needs.
The Government is yet to make any concrete decisions on the proposed reforms and is still in the process of consulting with developers and other stakeholders. The industry’s response has been overwhelmingly critical, with the Urban Land Institute, British Property Federation and Builders’ Merchants Federation (BMF) all rejecting the proposed reforms.
It appears that the development sector is in full opposition to the proposed planning reforms and is urging the Government to make alterations that ensure a smoother, more efficient planning process that does not weaken their ability to create much-needed homes, infrastructure and commercial developments. For the time being, the future of the reforms remains uncertain.