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Consultation on proposals for ‘once in a generation’ reform of the planning system was carried out in 2020. It set out proposals for zoning areas into growth, renewal and protected areas; automatic grant of outline permissions in growth areas; a streamlined plan making process and a fast track process for certain applications. The proposals proved controversial and in September the new housing secretary said he would ‘pause’ the government’s proposed planning changes for review. The Government’s final response to the Planning white paper and related legislation is now expected this year.
In March 2020, the Government set a deadline of December 2023 for all councils to have up-to-date Local Plans in place or face government intervention. With the majority of Local Plans in England being adopted prior to January 2019, and with plan reviews being hindered by the pandemic and emerging issues such as water neutrality, it is difficult to see how this ambition can be achieved. Government threats of intervention have not historically led to action being taken against under-performing planning authorities which will not help incentivise progress. It will be interesting to see if the Government sets out details of any punitive measures which will be imposed, such as a revised NPPF which could impose a presumption in favour of sustainable development regardless of the status of land.
The Building Back Britain Commission’s five point plan for building back Britain includes a proposal to adjust housing delivery strategy to be based on future need rather than historical growth. This will be particularly important in those areas identified as being most in need of levelling up.
The Environment Act 2021 was passed into law on 9th November 2021 to address environmental protection and the delivery of the Government’s 25 year Environment Plan. A key component of the Act is the requirement for Biodiversity Net Gain which is an obligation on developers to ensure all new proposals feature at least a 10% improvement with gain measures required to be managed for at least 30 years. A mitigation hierarchy applies which prioritises avoidance and mitigation of impacts over on-site compensation. As a last resort off-site measures or the purchase of biodiversity credits can be considered. There will be a 2 year transitional period before Biodiversity Net Gain becomes mandatory which will enable the industry to prepare, but some planning authorities are already starting to set out their own requirements.
The Planning (Enforcement) Bill had its second reading in the House of Commons in November 2021. The bill sets out measures to tighten up enforcement rules which would create offences relating to repeat breaches of planning control. There is a hint that retrospective applications could only be used by those who have ‘genuinely made a mistake’, with a presumption against retrospective applications for those people who have an enforcement history.
Another feature of The Environment Act is a requirement for a new system of spatial strategies for nature covering the whole of England. A ‘responsible authority’ will be appointed to lead each strategy area and to map the most valuable existing habitat for nature and specific proposals for creating or improving habitat. It is intended to help developers avoid the most valuable existing habitat and focus habitat creation where most appropriate.
The government published new building regulations in December 2021 which mandate a 30% carbon cut in all new houses and a 27% cut in all other new buildings by 2025. The new rules come into force in June with a transition period to allow for planning applications that are in progress at the time. Installing low carbon technology, such as solar panels and heat pumps, and using materials in a more energy efficient way to keep in heat will help cut emissions. All new residential buildings, including homes, care homes, student accommodation and children’s homes, must also be designed to reduce overheating. Improvements to ventilation will also be introduced to support the safety of residents in newly-built homes and to prevent the spread of airborne viruses in new non-residential buildings.
Clare Bartlett, MRTPI PIEMA.
Telephone: 01798 877555.