Autumn Statement: planning reforms welcome but need greater focus on local delivery

Planning reforms designed to speed up the delivery of new infrastructure and development have been welcomed by the property industry.

However, the British Property Federation urged Government to match structural reform of the planning system with measures to unlock greater investment in infrastructure, to ensure that local authority planning departments were properly resourced, and to overcome barriers to delivery at a local level.

Liz Peace, Chief Executive of the British Property Federation, said:

“This is a welcome vision of what Government says should happen, but one that skirts around the issue of how local authorities are actually going to be made to implement the changes. It’s important that the bigger picture is not lost, and that local authorities are supported to put in place sensible plans for their areas, and to have the confidence to deliver the infrastructure, commercial space and housing that’s needed.

“Properly resourced, well led local authorities will be essential to deliver this agenda. Delivering the infrastructure and development that we need will depend on local implementation and the efficacy of the carrots and sticks that are put in place to change local behaviour.”

– Proposals for Compulsory Purchase Reforms for consultation at Budget 2015 to make processes “clearer, faster and fairer”:

Liz Peace said:

“We are delighted to see that the Government is examining possibilities for improving the compulsory purchase system as this reform is long overdue. It’s important that previous valuable work is not forgotten. We look forward to working with Government on these proposals and ensuring that a new regime is transparent, predictable and workable for cash strapped local authorities.”

– A proposed ‘principle of development’.

Liz Peace said:

“We welcome the proposal of a ‘principle of development’. Any changes that bring additional certainty to the development sector are beneficial. However, it is unclear, for the moment, what the new principle means in practice and how it would differ from the measures already in place.”

– Taking steps to speed up section 106 negotiations, including revised guidance, consulting on a faster process for reaching agreement, considering how timescales for agreement could be introduced, and improving transparency on the use of section 106 funds;

Liz Peace said:

“It has long been claimed that negotiations around S106 significantly delay new development, and the arbitration measures, even if rarely used, will encourage all parties to reach agreement sooner. Any proposal that brings further certainty for local authorities to be able to create deliverable, fully-costed infrastructure plans should be welcomed.”

– Improving the performance of local authorities by keeping the speed of decisions on major applications under review, with the minimum performance threshold increasing to 50% of major decisions on time as performance improves; and publishing new data on local authorities’ performance in meeting their statutory duty to process smaller planning applications within 8 weeks.

Liz Peace said:

“In theory, we welcome any measures that ensure the performance of local authorities improves. However, as many planning departments face further cuts in the next few years it would perhaps make more sense to prioritise resourcing and skills in local authorities.

“This proposal will increase the number of Planning Performance Agreements (PPAs) as local authorities will set their own time scales to avoid the threat of ‘special measures’. Although PPAs themselves are to be welcomed as project management tools, it is not a realistic solution to the resourcing issue.”

“While it’s helpful to get a clear picture of local authorities’ performance, and to enable a forensic examination of the application process, it’s crucial in a time of resource constraints that local authorities are not put under excessive pressure to meet reporting requirements rather than dealing with the applications themselves.”

– The government will support Bicester to provide up to 13,000 new homes, subject to value for money

Liz Peace said:

“We have long supported the work taking place on Garden Cities, and are glad to see that some areas are brave enough to come forward. However, this is not enough. Serious thought must be given to green belt issues – not just in London and the south east, and to decide how the green belt can best serve the country in the 21st century.”

– Release of public land

Liz Peace said:

“We welcome the proposals for targets for the release of public land. However, this doesn’t solve some of the other major issues around delivery. In many cases, the decontamination work needed may make the figures difficult to stake up, and consideration must be given to location. It’s crucial that this new housing is in areas where people actually want to live, and where there is suitable infrastructure in place.”

– Working with industry and local authorities to test whether more can be done to support the approval of small sites in the planning system.

Liz Peace said:

“We are delighted to see attention being given to the smaller applications that often take up so much resource in a local authority. Each change will depend on implementation at a local level, and the efficacy of the carrots and sticks put in place to change local behaviours.”