2018 policy and legislation preview

2018 looks set to see further changes to the planning system after a busy autumn of announcements, says David Dewar.

Parliament: raft of policy changes due in 2018
Parliament: raft of policy changes due in 2018

Despite the government’s fixation on Brexit and its reduced majority following June’s snap general election, last autumn saw the announcement of a plethora of new proposed planning changes. After the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) published its consultation paper on housing need methodology in September, Planning the Right Homes in the Right Places, a series of further planning measures was included in November’s Autumn Budget while several measures announced in the February 2016 housing white paper were fleshed out. Planners who had been hoping for a respite from endless planning reform can instead expect 2018 to involve a series of further far-reaching changes to the system.

DEVELOPMENT MANAGEMENT

Developer contributions

In the Budget, the government proposed a number of reforms to the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL), following the CIL Review published in February 2017. These included a promise to consult on allowing the development tariff to capture a greater slice of the land value uplift arising when planning permission is granted, to remove the restriction on councils that have adopted CIL from pooling section 106 contributions towards a single piece of infrastructure "in certain circumstances" and to speed up the process of setting and revising charging schedules. No further announcements have been made on the government’s intentions to implement powers in the Housing and Planning Act 2016 for "appointed persons" to resolve issues holding up completion of planning obligations.

Application and appeal fees

Long-awaited regulations enabling councils to increase planning applica-tion fees by 20 per cent, on condition that the increased income is reinvested in planning services, were approved by Parliament just before Christmas and come into effect on 17 January. Under the regulations, ap-plication fees will range from a minimum of £96 to a maximum of £300,000, up from £80 and £250,000 respectively. The regulations also prescribe fees for planning permissions in principle, allow fees to be charged where applications are necessary because permitted development rights have been withdrawn and introduce a £96 flat fee for prior approval for a range of recently introduced permitted development rights.

A further 20 per cent increase in application fees in areas where homes have been delivered to meet community needs was floated in the September consultation document. Views were sought on what criteria should be used to measure this and whether the extra fee increase should be applied nationally. At the time of writing, consultation responses were being analysed. But there has been no further mention of previously mooted proposals to charge a fee of up to £2,000 for submitting planning appeals or of piloting the processing of planning applications by alternative providers.

Last month, the government launched the Planning Delivery Fund, a new £25 million pot to support authorities in areas of high housing need for new homes and infrastructure. Bids are open for the first two financial years of the fund.

Infrastructure and viability

September’s housing need consultation document proposed a number of measures aiming to make the production of viability assessments simpler, quicker and more transparent. Measures include clarifying that where policy requirements have been tested for their viability at the plan-making stage, the issue should not usually need to be tested again when a planning application is determined.

Compulsory purchase order reform

Parts of the Neighbourhood Planning Act 2017 that seek to codify and clarify the "no scheme" rule came into force on 22 September. The "no scheme" rule dictates that any increase or decrease in value arising from the scheme underlying a compulsory purchase order (CPO) is to be disregarded in assessing compensation liability.

SUBHEAD INCREASING HOUSING SUPPLY

Autumn Budget proposals

The government reaffirmed its commitment to maintaining "the existing protections for the green belt" but said it wanted to raise housing delivery to 300,000 new homes a year by the mid 2020s. The many proposed planning changes aiming to boost housing output include deallocating sites from plans "if there is no prospect of a planning application being made". The Budget also suggested setting minimum densities for housing development in city centres and around transport hubs, with greater support for the use of CPO powers for site assembly. Further measures include support for the conversion of empty space above high street shops, making it easier to convert retail and employment land into housing and introducing a permitted development right allowing commercial buildings to be demolished and replaced with housing.

New garden towns and villages

The Budget announced that the government would support the delivery of five locally-led new garden towns, bringing together public and private capital and using delivery vehicles such as development corporations. In December, it published draft regulations to amend the New Towns Act 1981, which would allow local authorities to set up new town development corporations to plan and develop new garden towns and villages. The government has also made an extra £3 million available to local planning authorities that are progressing new garden village proposals.

Growth areas and housing deals

In the Autumn Budget, the government said it wanted to build up to one million new homes in the corridor between Cambridge and Oxford by 2050 to maximise its economic potential. It also announced a housing deal with Oxfordshire’s councils promising to build 100,000 new homes by 2031 and adopt a joint statutory plan. Discussions over similar housing deals in Greater Manchester, Leeds, the West Midlands and the West of England were ongoing, the government said.

National planning policy

The September consultation paper stated that, subject to the consultation outcome and the responses received to the white paper, the government would publish a draft revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) "early in 2018". It said the government intended to allow a short period of time for further consultation on the text of the framework to make sure the wording is "clear, consistent and well understood". Latest expectations are that the consultation draft of the new framework will be published in the spring.

Assessment and delivery

The September consultation document contained a new standardised methodology for assessing housing need and sought views on the proposed approach. It is expected that the draft revised NPPF will outline how the government intends to take the standardised methodology forward and implement the approach.

The document also outlined a transitional arrangement for authorities to use the proposed new methodology. Where plans are more than five years old and new plans have not been submitted to the secretary of state on or before 31 March 2018 or before the revised framework is published, whichever is later, it says the new methodology would come into force immediately. If plans have been submitted and are being examined by that date, they can progress using the current approach.

Speeding up house building rates

In the Budget, the government announced it would be holding a consultation on strengthening the housing delivery test, which assesses councils’ performance on homes built against their housing need over a specified period. The housing white paper had said authorities that fail to deliver 65 per cent of their requirement from 2020 onwards would face the penalty of the presumption in favour of sustainable development. But the Budget promised to raise the threshold to 75 per cent. The test had originally been due to come into force in November 2017, but in September, the government announced this would be pushed back into 2018.

The Budget featured other proposed house-building measures, including requiring local authorities to bring forward 20 per cent of their housing supply as small sites, speeding up the discharge of planning conditions and developing a central register of residential planning permissions to improve information on where consents are held.

The Budget also announced a review of build-out rates, to be chaired by former Tory cabinet minister Sir Oliver Letwin. The review will be tasked to "explain the significant gap between housing completions and the amount of land allocated or permissioned" and to make recommendations for closing this gap. Letwin has been asked to provide an interim report in time for the Spring Statement 2018 and a full report at Budget 2018.

Permission in principle and brownfield land registers

Last April, regulations came into effect that required all local authorities to prepare brownfield land registers by 31 December 2017. Further regulations brought in at the same time introduced permission in principle (PiP), a new form of automatic planning consent for housing and related development, for sites on brownfield registers. Secondary legislation allowing developers to apply direct for PiP for non-major development is due to come into force on 1 June, but the government has not yet indicated when PiP will be brought in for sites allocated in local plans.

DEVELOPMENT PLANS

Local plan intervention

In a written ministerial statement on 16 November, communities secretary Sajid Javid announced that the government would be intervening in local plan production in 15 authorities where the council had failed to produce a local plan. Regulations to enable the secretary of state to direct neighbouring local authorities to produce joint statutory plans were laid before Parliament in December and come into force on 15 January.

Statements of common ground

In order to address the issue of plans falling foul of the duty to cooperate at examination, the September consultation paper took forward a plan originally mooted in the housing white paper requiring statements of common ground (SCGs) to be prepared. These would set out how councils intend to work together to meet housing needs that cut across authority boundaries. The document also proposed to amend the soundness test so that councils would have to show at examination that their plans are "based on a strategy informed by agreements over the wider area and on effective joint working on cross-boundary strategic priorities".

Neighbourhood planning

The September consultation paper took forward a housing white paper proposal that local authorities should provide neighbourhood planning groups with a housing need figure, to be used as a starting point in calculating housing need. The consultation suggests that authorities could do this by "making a reasoned judgement based on the settlement strategy and housing allocations in their plan", as long as this is up to date. Where it is not, a formula-based approach is proposed, using the new housing need methodology and based on the population of the neighbourhood planning area.

In December, regulations were laid before Parliament to enact measures in the Neighbourhood Planning Act making it easier to modify made neighbourhood plans and introducing a requirement for councils to notify neighbourhood planning groups in the "advanced" stage of developing a plan of any upcoming planning applications that could affect the emerging document. The measures come into effect on 31 January.

ENERGY AND INFRASTRUCTURE

National infrastructure

The National Infrastructure Commission published its interim national infrastructure assessment (NIA) in October. It revealed that the body would explore developing new ways to capture land value uplift and urged "some degree" of high-density development around infrastructure hubs in the green belt.

In the same month, the Department for Transport published a revised draft national policy statement (NPS) on airports. The government had previously indicated that the publication of the final version is unlikely to be voted on in the Commons before the first half of 2018.

A hybrid bill authorising phase 2a of the High Speed Two rail link between Lichfield in the West Midlands and Crewe in Cheshire was introduced into Parliament in July 2017. It is set to receive its second reading in the commons early this year. Consultation on a new NPS for nuclear power stations above 1 gigawatt likely to come forward between 2025 and 2035 was published in December.

Shale gas exploration

The government announced the creation of a £1.2 million funding programme in November to assist mineral planning authorities with the processing of planning applications for shale gas exploration. Bids to receive funding must be received by 23 February. Nothing has yet emerged on the 2016 election manifesto promise to bring shale gas development within the nationally significant infrastructure planning regime.


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