Recently we attended a very useful seminar at Clarke Willmott Solicitors LLP in Bristol on the proposed Housing and Planning Bill 2015-16. It has major implications for housing, estate agents, rent charges, compulsory purchase and, of course, planning. As the Bill enters its second reading in the House of Commons, here’s a quick summary of its key issues that we’ll be looking out for in the coming months…

A clear emphasis on a plan-led planning system

  • The Secretary of State could have the power to intervene where he thinks a Local Planning Authority is ‘failing’ on the production of their plan. Critically, he will be able impose new housing numbers on councils if they are not resolving the issue themselves. This forms part of a number of new measures to streamline the plan-making process.

Our view: It’s difficult to see how rushing plans through has longevity as an approach. It is likely there will be challenges over unrobust policies. We wonder how councils will respond to the threat of increasing housing numbers. Developers will need to think carefully about the timing of housing submissions before these allocations are fixed.

A big push on the production and status of neighbourhood plans

  • Draft neighbourhood plans now have weight within the decision-making process. Plans must satisfy a number of basic conditions, of which they must be in ‘general conformity’ with the strategic policies of Local Plans.

Our view: ‘General conformity’ is clearly open to interpretation. The examination arrangements appear considerably less robust than for their development plan counterparts – plans are not required to be ‘sound’ and are largely only tested through written submissions.

Neighbourhood forums can now be elevated to the status of Parish Councils (so they become a statutory consultee in the application process).

Our view: The neighbourhood planning tier is clearly gathering pace and influence, with less accountability. We’ll be advising our clients who have sites to promote to seek involvement with the preparation of neighbourhood plans from the earliest possible stage.

Permission in principle

  • Proposed development orders would give ‘permission in principle’ for specific types of development. If granted, subsequent applications must then be made for the approval of technical details.

Our view: We understand that this is intended to give certainty to smaller developers, in particular those trying to obtain finance. However, it is unclear how this will work in reality, as the vast amount of information needed for the technical details could mean that the process will be little different from the outline/reserved matters regime.

Affordable housing – a dream or a disaster?

200,000 starter homes are proposed by 2020
200,000 starter homes are proposed by 2020
  • The Government is notably moving its focus away from the rented sector towards home ownership. There are 200,000 new starter homes planned for completion by 2020. These will be bought at 80% of the market price and can be sold-on at full value after five years, without involving a registered provider.
  • The right-to-buy initiative can also be extended to properties owned by registered providers. Local Planning Authorities will be required to provide more serviced plots for self-build schemes.

Our view: The starter homes initiative appears very short-term and will probably reduce the delivery of other forms of affordable housing. Similarly, the right-to-buy extension can surely only diminish the supply of affordable rental properties available. We’ll be watching carefully to see what all this does to housing numbers (presumably the urgent starter home requirement will override some Local Plans) and the application of affordable housing policy.

Permitted development rights

 

  • The temporary PD rights that currently allow office buildings to be converted to residential use are to be made permanent. They will be extended to include conversion from light industrial units (and, bizarrely, launderettes) to enable demolition and re-build.

Our view: This is good news for our commercial clients, although we will still need to go through the prior notification procedure and keep an eye on the liability for Community Infrastructure levy.

Summary

We are anticipating a rush on plan-making and housing applications; a rise in the number (and weight) of neighbourhood plans; and a stall, or indeed decrease, in the delivery and choice of long-term sustainable affordable housing.

We’d be surprised if the proposed stream-lining measures speed up plan-making and decision-making processes – flimsy policies and ‘bare-bones’ planning applications will only lead to delays down the line. We’ll be watching closely as the Bill takes its impact and keep you updated!