2017: the year in headlines

The most memorable planning stories of the past 12 months, summarised by John Geoghegan.

Left to right: ClientEarth CEO James Thornton outside the High Court; Manchester mayor Andy Burnham; June’s dramatic general election; the Grenfell Tower blaze; London mayor Sadiq Khan
Left to right: ClientEarth CEO James Thornton outside the High Court; Manchester mayor Andy Burnham; June’s dramatic general election; the Grenfell Tower blaze; London mayor Sadiq Khan

JAN: Scottish government announces 20 proposed reforms to planning system. The Places, People and Planning consultation document's key proposals include: the abolition of city region strategic development plans and introducing community-made local place plans and a new infrastructure levy.

Legal threat to government's move to strengthen neighbourhood plans. A consortium of 18 developers calls on the government to withdraw its December 2016 written ministerial statement on neighbourhood planning, claiming it was unlawfully introduced without prior consultation.

FEB: The government's long-awaited housing white paper is published. Among its many proposed planning changes are a new housing delivery test, a standard method of calculating housing need and allowing councils to raise planning application fees by 20 per cent. Plans to impose a legal duty on councils to provide starter homes are dropped.

The High Speed Two (HS2) hybrid bill receives royal assent. The bill taking forward the first leg of the HS2 rail project, between London and the West Midlands, receives overwhelming support in parliament.

MAR: The Planning Inspectorate (PINS) clarifies its approach to small sites affordable home contributions. PINS apologises to the London Borough of Richmond after the council complained about a series of inconsistent appeal decisions on the issue of affordable housing contributions from small sites. PINS accepted that, in two decisions, inspectors had not given enough weight to local policies seeking contributions on such sites.

PINS apologises over inspector's strongly-worded decision letter. Planning inspector Pete Drew rejected an award of costs application from Bath and North East Somerset Council after it won an enforcement notice appeal. He described it as "the most pathetic application for costs I have ever had the misfortune to have to adjudicate on". PINS sends the council a letter expressing "sincere apologies" for Drew's language.

APR: Neighbourhood Planning Act receives Royal Assent. The act's provisions give greater weight to advanced neighbourhood plans and create new powers for the government to direct two or more local planning authorities to develop joint plans.

'Permission in principle' (PiP) comes into force. One of the measures included in the Housing and Planning Act 2016, PiP is intended to grant automatic provisional consent for residential-led development on sites allocated in new brownfield registers, and local and neighbourhood plans. April's regulations introduced PiP for sites on brownfield registers only.

MAY: Landmark Supreme Court judgment on housing land supply. The Supreme Court rules that a Court of Appeal judgment last year was wrong in its findings on the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) paragraph 49. The paragraph says a local authority's housing supply policies should not be considered up to date without a five-year housing land supply (see legal review p19, for full details).

New metro mayors elected in six English city and sub-regions. Labour's Andy Burnham (below) and Steve Rotheram triumph in Manchester and Liverpool respectively, while Conservatives Andy Street, Tim Bowles, Ben Houchen and James Palmer respectively take office in the West Midlands, the West of England, Tees Valley and Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. Four of the six will wield strategic planning powers.

JUN: Snap general election produces hung parliament. Prime Minister Theresa May's decision to suddenly call an election backfired when she lost her parliamentary majority. Housing and planning minister Gavin Barwell lost his marginal Croydon Central seat and, later that month, was succeeded by Reading West MP Alok Sharma.

Inferno at Grenfell Tower in west London kills dozens. A fire broke out in a high-rise tower block in Kensington, resulting in the deaths of 71 people. The tragedy prompted a debate about the quantity and quality of social housing provision, tall buildings and density and whether the government had gone too far in its efforts to cut built environment regulations.

JUL: Planning's application fee rise survey reveals how town halls would spend their new income. Our exclusive survey, supported by the Planning Officers Society, shows that council planning chiefs expect to be able to increase their staff by an average of almost five people over the next two years as a result of the housing white paper's proposed fee rise.

The government's final air quality plan is published after campaigners' court victory. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs releases its long-awaited air quality plan, setting out how it intends to reduce nitrogen dioxide concentrations across the country. In April, the High Court had blocked the government's attempt to delay publication of the document.

AUG: Planning investigation reveals that councils have collected tens of millions of pounds of unspent Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) receipts. Our findings show that the first 32 councils to start charging CIL have spent just 16 per cent of the £165 million accumulated on infrastructure. More than one in three had not spent any of the money on infrastructure, our research revealed.

Mayor of London publishes supplementary planning guidance (SPG) aiming to boost affordable housing levels. Mayor Sadiq Khan's SPG allows developers that provide 35 per cent or more affordable housing on their schemes to avoid having a viability appraisal. Those seeking lower levels would be subject to detailed viability appraisals and additional reviews during scheme construction.

SEPT: Government publishes new housing need assessment method proposals. The government's much-anticipated new standardised method for councils to calculate their housing need is published for consultation. Communities secretary Sajid Javid says the proposed formula would mean that housing need figures would rise by an average of 35 per cent in more than 150 local authority areas.

Police announce investigation into manipulation of air quality data at Cheshire East Council.

In July, the council had said it would review "hundreds" of planning decisions after it emerged that "deliberate and systematic manipulation of data" had resulted in it publishing incorrect air quality figures.

OCT: Planning application fee rise finally set to come into effect after delay. Draft regulations providing for a 20 per cent increase in planning application fees in England are laid before Parliament, after their initial introduction in July had been delayed by the summer recess.

National Infrastructure Commission publishes draft 30-year strategic vision. The government's infrastructure adviser's first interim national infrastructure assessment said it would explore new ways to capture land value uplift to help pay for infrastructure. The document also suggests that high-density development around infrastructure hubs could help provide homes in "high demand and desirable locations".

NOV: Javid announces 15 councils in line for local plan intervention. The communities secretary says his "patience has run out" and he would take over plan-making at 15 local authorities that have failed to make progress on their local plans. The councils affected, including Liverpool, St Albans and Brentwood, can cite any mitigating circumstances by January 31 next year before a final decision is made.

Host of new planning changes announced in Autumn Budget. Chancellor Philip Hammond says the government wants to see 300,000 homes a year built by 2023, up from the current annual target of 200,000. He also announces development corporations to kick-start the building of five new garden towns, proposed minimum housing densities in urban areas and changes to CIL.

Draft London Plan published for consultation. The mayor's overarching planning document for the capital proposes raising the ten-year housing target from 42,000 to 65,000 homes a year, pushing up targets for the vast majority of London boroughs. The plan also promotes higher housing densities and the use of smaller sites for new homes and introduces tighter rules on providing car parking spaces in new developments.

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