Influencing the reform of our planning system
By Nicole Wright | 30.10.23
In the final quarter of 2023, Nicole Wright, Head of Planning at Rural Solutions, reflects on another tumultuous year for planning and how more than ever expert advice is required to inform clients’ decisions and actions.
In the last few months alone, we’ve heard announcements of the government’s redeployment of funds from the northern leg of HS2, the approved expansion plans for Luton Airport to allow an additional one million passengers a year, changes to the date when requirements for new developments to deliver at least 10% biodiversity net gain will take effect, and the ongoing controversy over whether nutrient neutrality requirements will continue to delay housing delivery nationally.
What changes in planning policy can we anticipate in 2024?
The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill (LURB) gained Royal Assent on 26 October. The new Levelling Up and Regeneration Act 2023 (LURA) will introduce a raft of changes to the planning system.
Although the Act itself has not yet been published and secondary legislation will be required before some parts of it can come into force, we know from the draft Bill that we can expect:
- measures to speed up the making of local plans
- a new infrastructure levy replacing the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) and changing planning obligations
- environmental outcomes reporting replacing environmental impact assessments (EIA)
- new routes for amending planning applications via section 73B
- increased protection to registered parks and gardens
The LURB included new powers enabling local planning authorities to refuse planning applications of developers with slow records of delivery.
The September National Planning Policy Framework, which introduced guidance and greater support for onshore wind farms, is anticipated to be revised shortly, following the 2023 LURA.
We are also expecting around a 30% increase in planning application fees, which the government says is necessary to help fund under-resourced planning authorities to provide a better planning service.
"Many of these reforms have the potential to significantly change the rural environment and development opportunities."
Will the proposed changes influence development viability?
Many of the forthcoming changes to the planning system will impact on the viability of delivery. Earlier this month, we saw Michael Gove’s letter to council leaders telling them to be ‘open and pragmatic’ in agreeing changes to developments, where conditions mean that the original plan may no longer be viable, and to continue to adopt ambitious local plans, ahead of imminent changes to national planning policy that are due this autumn.
Should we expect another unsettled year?
The changing landscape of planning is inevitable and our interventions impact both directly and indirectly on our communities, environment, and economy. Given the rapidly approaching general election, we continue to work with our clients to take a long-term view. The planning horizon looks poised for further change, and we keenly await the party manifestos.
The Labour Party has made some bold announcements for planning reform. These would see the rebirth of ‘next generation’ towns, the reintroduction of strategic regional planning to release green belt land and permit development on low quality green belt land. They also propose an amendment to the approach to localism, the delivery of 1.5 million homes, and further reforms to the planning system to speed up decision making.
At the Conservative Party Conference, we heard from the prime minister that the northern leg of HS2 would not be delivered. Recent announcements reveal where some of the funds have been redirected. A significant percentage of these funds has been diverted to improving transport infrastructure across the country including huge investment in bus services. Housing and planning remain high on the agenda, with the housing minister stating that she would intervene in the plan-making process where local planning authorities are slow to produce their local plans.
We await further detail on how these reforms are to be introduced, and more fundamentally how each party might encourage growth and support within our rural communities.
Will there be sufficient certainty for decision-makers?
Planning law requires decisions to be in accordance with the development plan unless material considerations indicate otherwise. Without an up-to-date development plan local authorities are at risk of losing control of where development is planned and delivered.
Local plans continue to be revised to ensure they comply with national policy. However, the process of reviewing local plans is lengthy and could take several years. The 2023 LURA is expected to speed up the process of plan making.
This autumn, several local plans across the country will undergo independent examination in preparation for adoption next year. These include North Norfolk, Dover, Crawley, and East Ridings.
Will existing social and community infrastructure cope?
In late October, the government introduced new permitted development rights (PDRs) for schools affected by reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) wishing to erect temporary buildings. Schools intending to take advantage of these new PDRs will need to notify the local planning authority at the relevant time. Under the new PDRs there is a limit of 125% of the total floor space being replaced.
Can we expect more changes before the end of the year?
The long-awaited guidance on biodiversity net gain, including the statutory biodiversity metric for calculating the requirement will be published next month with a proposal to implement the changes from January 2024.
The next few months will see vast changes in planning law and practice. At Rural Solutions, we monitor and influence these changes and devise appropriate strategies for intervention on behalf of our clients. If you have an enquiry you would like to discuss, please get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org