2016: The year in headlines

The biggest planning stories to make the news over the past year are remembered by John Geoghegan.

Clocwise from top left: London mayor Sadiq Khan, jubilant Brexit supporters, housing and planning minister Gavin Barwell, Heathrow airport
Clocwise from top left: London mayor Sadiq Khan, jubilant Brexit supporters, housing and planning minister Gavin Barwell, Heathrow airport

January

Government rejects inspectors’ advice on rail freight hub. Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin approved plans for the East Midlands Gateway rail freight interchange, despite it being the first Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) to be recommended for refusal.

February

Extension of government intervention in local plans proposed. The Department for Communities and Local Government’s (DCLG’s) technical consultation on the Housing & Planning Bill proposed that authorities which "have not kept the policies in their local plan up-todate", as well as councils where no local plan has been produced by early 2017, could face intervention.

March

Wales’ Development of National Significance regime goes live. The Welsh government’s equivalent of England’s Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project regime, is intended to offer an efficient consent system. Local Plan Expert Group (LPEG) publishes its report on local plan reform. The government-commissioned LPEG, chaired by consultant John Rhodes, recommended radical changes to local plan-making including a standard method for calculating housing need, an annual housing land supply assessment and more joint plan-making.

Starter Homes quota announced. The DCLG proposed that 20 per cent of homes on all but the smallest developments should be discounted Starter Homes for first-time buyers, prompting concerns about the impact on traditional affordable housing.

Developer wins ‘landmark’ case over Cheshire green gap policy. Developer Richborough Estates won a Court of Appeal battle against Cheshire East Borough Council over plans to build 150 new homes in a green gap in the Cheshire countryside. Experts said this could give developers greater scope to build on protected land where councils cannot demonstrate a five-year housing land supply.

April

Section 106 appeal mechanism axed. The DCLG surprised many in the sector when it announced that the temporary 106BC appeal mechanism allowing developers to challenge affordable housing obligations was to be axed. The mechanism was introduced in the Growth and Infrastructure Act 2013 and allowed appeals against affordable housing obligations where developers claimed they made schemes unviable.

May

Former Labour minister Sadiq Khan is elected mayor of London. Khan campaigned on promises including making half of all new homes in the capital "genuinely affordable", giving Londoners priority for new housing and protecting the green belt from new development.

The Housing and Planning Act is approved. The act introduced a requirement for councils to guarantee the provision of Starter Homes on all "reasonably sized" sites and granted the government powers to ensure that councils have local plans in place by 2017. It also paved the way for planning permission in principle to be given to sites allocated in a brownfield register, local or neighbourhood plan.

Scottish planning review published. A Scottish government-commissioned panel published 48 recommendations to improve the nation’s planning system. It proposed that the government set regional housing targets, scrap city-region strategic development plans, increase application fees and create a national infrastructure agency.

Northern Ireland’s new Department for Infrastructure created. As part of a government restructure, the Departments for the Environment and Regional Development, both of which had held planning responsibilities, merged into the new Department for Infrastructure.

June

Jules Pipe and James Murray share London planning brief. Ex-Hackney mayor Jules Pipe was appointed London’s deputy mayor for planning, regeneration and skills. The Greater London Authority (GLA) said that Pipe would lead on the revision of the London Plan. In May, former Islington councillor James Murray was announced as the deputy mayor for housing.

Britain votes to leave the European Union. After a bitter campaign, the public backed Brexit by 52 to 48 per cent. Experts predicted that a potential slowdown in construction, withdrawal of EU infrastructure funding, possible axing of EU environmental rules and lower rates of future immigration could have an impact on planning.

July

Fresh ministerial team at DCLG as new prime minister takes office. Theresa May took over from David Cameron, who stood down following the vote. Sajid Javid was appointed as communities secretary, saying that his priority was to build more homes, devolve powers to local areas, and describing the green belt as "absolutely sacrosanct". Croydon MP Gavin Barwell was appointed as the new housing and planning minister.

Planning Inspectorate misses annual casework targets. The inspectorate’s annual report showed that it missed several of its 2015/16 casework targets, including goals for determining appeals though written representations, section 78 hearings and inquiries.

New household growth projections for England are published. The Office for National Statistic's household growth projections for England showed that the number of households in the country is estimated to increase from 22.7 million in 2014 to 28 million by 2039.

August 

New rules requiring developers in Wales to carry out pre-application consultation come into force. The rules, applying to schemes of more than ten units, came into force on August 1, prompting fears they might delay applications.

September

Neighbourhood Planning Bill is published. Contrary to an earlier government announcement, infrastructure elements were dropped from the final bill. Measures included limiting planning conditions, strengthening neighbourhood planning, and compulsory purchase reforms.

October

National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) set to become executive agency. Instead of giving the NIC the previously promised statutory backing, new chancellor Philip Hammond said it will become an executive agency with its role laid out in a charter.

Government backs fracking in Lancashire. Sajid Javid allowed three appeals by energy firm Cuadrilla against Lancashire County Council’s refusal of permission in June 2015 for applications to extract shale gas at Roseacre Wood and Preston New Road sites. The announcement causes dismay among environmental campaigners.

Heathrow expansion announced. The Department for Transport announced that a committee of ministers had chosen Heathrow as its preferred option for airport expansion in the South East. The department said that the scheme would be taken forward in the form of a draft national policy statement, which would be published for consultation in the new year.

First ‘no’ vote in a neighbourhood plan referendum. Swanwick in Derbyshire became the first community in the country to reject a neighbourhood plan in a local referendum. The plan-making body, Swanwick Parish Council, campaigned against its own plan after claiming that the examiner’s report had ‘decimated’ the plan’s policies.

Draft Greater Manchester Spatial Framework goes out to consultation. The Greater Manchester Combined Authority published its draft spatial plan for the city-region, the first such document to be prepared by a combined authority. It proposes removing 4,900 hectares from surrounding green belt to provide 227,200 new homes.

November

High Court backs St Ives’ neighbourhood plan’s second homes ban. A neighbourhood plan policy intended to halt the spread of second homes in St Ives, Cornwall, was upheld in a High Court challenge. The St Ives Area Neighbourhood Development Plan, which was backed by 83 per cent of voters in a referendum in May, included a policy that would require new homes to be occupied as the buyer’s main residence.

Infrastructure funding promised in Autumn Statement. Chancellor Philip Hammond revealed a £2.3 billion ‘Housing Infrastructure Fund’ to unlock up to 100,000 homes in areas of high demand. He also confirmed £3.15 billion for the GLA to deliver affordable housing and pledged £100 million for a new Oxford to Cambridge rail link.


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