The Productivity Plan
George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, published a Productivity Plan entitled “Fixing the Foundations: Creating a More Prosperous Nation”, on Friday 10th July (“the Productivity Plan”). The Plan introduced several measures designed to speed up planning applications and ultimately increase the rate of delivery of housing. The plan announced that sites included in the planned statutory registers of brownfield land, to be compiled by local authorities, will effectively be given automatic planning permission for residential development, in the form of Local Development Orders. This reform is intended to speed up the planning process by taking away the need to apply for planning permission and will encourage developers to purchase more brownfield sites. It is hoped that 90% of suitable brownfield land will be granted Local Development Orders by 2020. However, while it is a welcome reform, there is still uncertainty surrounding how the Government will force local authorities to adopt their lists in a timely manner, or who the decision to list land will rest with.
A major road block to many developments is the uncertainty surrounding a local authority’s Local Plan. So far, numerous local authorities have been slow to adopt an up-to-date Local Plan, with many facing long, delayed processes. The Productivity Plan announced that legislation will be amended to strengthen the Localism Act’s duty to co-operate, in an attempt to speed up the process, and if a local authority fails to adopt an up-to-date Local Plan by a set deadline, which will be announced before Parliament’s summer recess, then the Secretary of State will intervene. We await details of how the Secretary of State will intervene. It will also be interesting to see how the duty to co-operate will be strengthened. To date the duty is not always used effectively to deliver regional solutions, for example delivery of housing numbers where a housing market area extends over more than one planning authority area.
The Productivity Plan also seeks to strengthen the planning performance regime by extending it to minor applications. The new rules will provide that local authorities who fail to decide 50% of all applications on time (as opposed to the previous 40%) risk being ‘designated’ into special measures. Where a local authority has been designated, a developer may apply for planning permission directly to the Secretary of State. To date few planning authorities have been designated and very few applications have been made directly to the Secretary of State.
Overall, the proposals have been welcomed by the planning industry and it is hoped that, once in effect, they will improve certainty over local planning policy and speed up the process for obtaining planning permission for housing development. However, no timescales have been set by the plan for these new reforms and surely the lack of resources available to local authorities is the principal problem affecting the speed of the planning process. Will yet more change just place greater burdens on already stretched planning departments?