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Planning Reforms Delays Have Had a 'Chilling Effect' on Homebuilding

Planning Reforms Delays Have Had a 'Chilling Effect' on Homebuilding
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The government will fail to meet its homebuilding targets unless its planning reforms are urgently pushed through, the House of Lords has warned.

A new Lords report reveals that around 194,000 homes were built in 2020/21, some way off the government's target - and Conservative 2019 election manifesto pledge - of 300,000 homes per year. 

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The report, titled, ‘Meeting housing demand’, said uncertainty over planning permission rules and delays to planning reforms have had a ‘chilling effect’ on house building, creating uncertainty for house builders and planners.

“We need more up-to-date local plans, and these need to be simpler, clearer, and more transparent. Planning departments need more resource to avert an emerging crisis," said the report.

The House of Lords Committee's report also called for greater support for SME builders within the homebuilding industry, which would help to reduce planning risk and make more small sites available. Almost four in 10 new homes were built by smaller housebuilders in 1988, but this figure has fallen to just a tenth.

Cllr David Renard, Local Government Association housing spokesperson, said in response to the report: “While planning is not the barrier to housebuilding, with nine in 10 planning applications approved by councils, the Committee is right to highlight the need for planning authorities to be adequately resourced."

What's the Latest With The Planning Reforms?

The Planning Bill is due to go before parliament this spring, having been delayed from last year, and will comprise the government's planning reforms announced in the 'Planning for the Future' white paper of summer 2020. However it is unclear how heavily watered down the Bill will be.

Fierce criticism over plans for a zonal planning system initially proposed in the white paper meant the idea was reportedly scrapped late last year. The traffic light system of zone planning would have classified land for either growth, renewal or protection, but MPs feared this it would silence communities left unable to prevent housing developments in their areas.

It is likely another proposal, mandatory targets for local authorities to build 300,000 homes per year, will also be dismissed.

These planning reforms were reportedly blamed internally for the Conservatives' shock defeat in the Chesham and Amersham by-election in June, and up to 100 Conservative MPs would have reportedly voted against the Bill had they gone before parliament with these reforms included, according to Daily Mail

Before the Planning Bill can be put before parliament, the government still needs to respond to a considerable 44,000 responses issued in a consultation over the reforms, which closed in January 2021. 

builders talking on a building site

The new Planning Bill is expected to relax rules on planning permission. (Image credit: iStock)

Which Planning Reforms Have Been Proposed?

The Planning Bill is likely to comprise several key strands to create what the government says will be a more streamlined process. These could include:

A digital planning system 

The document-based planning system currently in effect would move to a digital one. This is designed to improve the speed and efficiency of application decisions, and allow residents to be more engaged in the development of their local area.

At the moment, only 3% of local people engage with consultations on planning applications, according to the government.

Scrapping Section 106

A new infrastructure levy has been proposed to replace Section 106, a legal agreement between an applicant seeking planning permission and the local planning authority. 

Initially designed to be set nationally, the levy will now be set locally, former housing secretary Robert Jenrick confirmed in July, giving local councils more control as well as the ability to determine how and where any levies are spent within their local area.

The HCLG Select Committee is against this proposal outright, and says it could jeopardise the availability of affordable housing in the UK. 

an example of an urban brownfield site

The planning reforms could include investment in urban regeneration to put new homes on brownfield sites. (Image credit: Getty Images)

Street referendums on developments

Housing secretary Michael Gove told the House of Commons in December that he supported the idea of Street Votes, which would give local people the power to set their own development rules in suburban areas. 

Under the plan, 20% of residents or 10 homeowners, whichever figure is higher, could ask their local council to hold a referendum on a design code for their street. 

The code could be used to determine the size, height and style of new homes and allow homeowners to add extensions. The code would need the support of 60% of residents, which if passed would lead to automatic planning permission for new homes and extensions.

Brownfield site investment

Mr Gove has also said the government will invest in urban regeneration to put new homes on "neglected" brownfield sites.

Why Have New Reforms Been Proposed?

The last significant update to the planning system occurred in 1947 and the Planning Bill is designed to replace this legislation. 

The government has said it wants to cut the planning system red tape, due to the current speed of housing development in England.

Under the current rules, it takes an average of five years for a standard housing development to go through the planning system. The Planning Bill aims to significantly reduce this time. 

The government says the reforms will make the planning system more accessible to residents and help more young people get on the property ladder. 

New Reforms to Reward High-Quality Design 

In 2021, the government published further planning reforms via the National Model Design Code and a revision of the National Planning Policy Framework.

Both strengthen requirements on design quality and will give local authorities power to reject housing schemes which do not meet the required quality. 

Self builders could also find it easier to secure planning permission if their builds are well designed and use high-quality materials.

a self build home with large windows

New design laws could make it easier for high-quality self builds to obtain planning permission. (Image credit: Alistair Nicholls)

The National Planning Policy Framework

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) was first published in 2012, and the revision makes beauty a central theme of the NPFF. It sets out the expectation for local authorities to produce and action their own design codes, and emphasise the approval of practical, sustainable designs while rejecting poor-quality designs. 

The NPFF also states that streets should be lined with trees to help improve biodiversity and access to nature through design.  

The National Model Design Code

The National Model Design Code (NMDC) provides a 10-point checklist of design principles to enable local authorities to create their own local design requirements.

Local communities will also be encouraged to get involved in the decision-making process through digital tools, social media and face-to-face workshops to help local authorities deliver beautiful, green homes.

The code also includes references to custom and self build, with accompanying guidance underlying how design codes can encourage self build and custom build developments. 

Furthermore, the government has announced the Office for Place, which will drive up design standards and be used to test and pilot the NMDC, involving more than 20 local councils and communities. 

Jack Woodfield

Jack is News Editor for Homebuilding & Renovating, and strives to break the most relevant and beneficial stories for self builders, extenders and renovators, including the latest news on the construction materials shortage and planning reforms. Having bought his first home in 2013, he and his wife have renovated almost every room and recently finished a garden renovation.