Queen’s speech divides house building industry

The new Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill, announced in the Queen’s Speech on 18 May, has received a mixed reaction May 19, 2016 / Isla MacFarlane
Queen’s speech divides house building industry

The new bill aims to support the Government’s ambition to deliver one million new homes, whilst protecting areas such as the green belt. The new bill includes measures to ensure that pre-commencement planning conditions are only imposed by local planning authorities where they are absolutely necessary.

The new legislation would tackle what it refers to as ‘the overuse, and in some cases, misuse of certain planning conditions, and thereby ensure that development, including new housing, can get underway without unnecessary delay’.

The British Property Federation (BPF) has welcomed this move. “The planning system is often cited as one of the main barriers to development, and pre-commencement planning conditions are an extra burden placed on developers which ultimately slows down the whole process,” said Melanie Leech, chief executive of the British Property Federation.

“Whilst we welcome the change, we would like to see more detail on how this is going to be enforced and how already-stretched local authorities will cope,” added Leech. “Conditions for development should be agreed as part of the pre-application process, and we would hope that the planning process is not made over-complicated to compensate.”

However, others feel it is unfair to blame local authorities. “The planning system is not a barrier to housebuilding,” said Cllr Peter Box, planning spokesman at the Local Government Association. “Councils approve almost nine out of 10 planning applications and the number of homes being granted planning permission by local authorities during 2015 was 253,000, the highest level since 2007. We support the intention to improve the process for reviewing and updating neighbourhood plans but are clear that any additional requirements on councils should be fully funded.

“There is little evidence to suggest development is being delayed by planning conditions. Planning conditions provide a vital role, enabling planning permissions to go ahead which would otherwise be refused or delayed while the details are worked out. They can also save developers time and money as they do not need to invest in detailed submissions until the principle of the development is granted.”

The bill also includes measures to make the compulsory purchase order process clearer, fairer and faster for all those involved. It includes reform of the context within which compensation is negotiated – often a very significant and complex part of finalising a compulsory purchase deal.

This move has been more widely welcomed by authorities. “Reforms to Compulsory Purchase Orders could pave the way for councils to capture the value from increased land prices to invest in the vital infrastructure that boosts housebuilding and creates places that people want to live,” said Box.

“Over the past year, Government has pushed the infrastructure agenda hard, which is something that we welcome given that infrastructure and development and regeneration projects go hand in hand,” said Leech. “The announcement shows a further commitment to that cause as CPO is an essential tool for ensuring the success of such schemes, as well as bringing forward major infrastructure projects, and it is good to see Government committed to ensuring that the system is as efficient as possible.”

The bill would also establish an independent National Infrastructure Commission on a statutory basis, to provide the government with expert, independent advice on infrastructure issues. “Again, to see a firm commitment to driving the infrastructure agenda forward by making the NIC a statutory body, is extremely welcome,” said Leech. “We would be interested to see the Treasury’s response to its consultation on structure and governance of the NIC earlier this year, as there are a number of questions that need answering, particularly around who will be on the commission and how it will continue to be independent once statutory.”

“The creation of a National Infrastructure Commission also announced today has the potential to ensure government decisions and investment will receive greater local consensus than there has been to date,” said Box. “Early and effective engagement with councils will be central to the NIC being able to fulfil this potential.”

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