Government continues its dismantling of the planning system, by Chris Brown

The latest move in the government's on-going restructuring of the planning system to emerge from the policy making fog are plans to create permitted development on 'Brownfield' sites.

Some will remember the NPPF battle in 2011 when Government tried to drop the Brownfield First policy and were then forced to include it as one of the 12 core planning principles.

The issue re-emerged in the May 2014 council elections as UKIP gained electoral advantage in opposing green field development (and advocating Brownfield), particularly to the east and south east of London where their electoral potential was greatest.

Just one month later the Government launched its policy on Brownfield targeting local authorities to make Local Development Orders over 90% of previously developed land suitable for housing by 2020.

Then at the end of October last year in a re-announcement of the policy Government claimed credit (erroneously) for most new housing being on previously developed land and set themselves up as the protectors of the Green Belt.

In January this year, still with the Local Development Order in mind as the planning route, they issued a consultation.

Then in the Budget in July they changed the policy fundamentally referring to it in the Productivity Plan as ‘a new zonal system which will effectively give automatic permission on suitable sites’.

By the time this saw the light of day in the Housing and Planning Bill it had morphed again into a completely new approach where the local authority would be forced to produce a register of sites (criteria to be defined by the Secretary of State) which would automatically receive a brand new type of 'permission in principle’ for housing development which would become a planning permission on approval of a new ‘technical details consent’.

The Select Committee called the Housing and Planning Minister to give evidence but were left none the wiser.

So at this stage we know nothing about the criteria for entry on the register, or the nature of the permission in principle or the technical details consent.

We do have some precedents though. The National Land Use Database (NLUD) exists and we know how the prior notification for permitted development for change of use from offices to residential works for example.

But it is clear that planning permission is not the issue with the vast majority of sites on the NLUD. Many have permission or are allocated in local plans, many are simply not viable for development.

Also NLUD doesn't contain most of the previously developed sites that are actually being developed (60% of new homes are currently built on previously developed land, down from 81% in 2008). Instead the database mainly contains the really difficult sites that sit around for long enough for local authorities to spot them. Previously developed land is a renewable resource that increases when values rise faster that build costs.

For the tough sites, we await the £1 Billion Brownfield Fund.

Chris Brown is executive chairman of developer Igloo Regeneration.

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