Five key points from BIAC's rural planning conference

Earlier this month, consultants, landowners, developers and planning authorities gathered in Reading for the British Institute of Agricultural Consultants annual rural affairs conference. Here are five key messages that emerged from the event.

Barn conversion: conventional applications offer better chance of consent than permitted development right
Barn conversion: conventional applications offer better chance of consent than permitted development right

1. The government intends to place more tardy plan-making authorities under close scrutiny, a senior government official told delegates. Earlier in the week, government chief planner Steve Quartermain had said that a decision would "soon" be made on whether to formally intervene in the local plan-making process in the three councils that have been deemed to be performing poorly in that part of their duties. At the conference, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government planning director Simon Gallagher told delegates that "we are starting with the ones furthest away from getting the plans in place, but we really want to get onto the next wave, once we are through that conversation".

2. Radical changes to capture more of the increases to land value generated by planning permissions and site allocations are unlikely, according to a senior government official. Gallagher told delegates that planning minister Kit Malthouse’s "mantra of getting on with it" made major legislative action seem unlikely. Gallagher said he expected pragmatic, incremental reform rather than a return "to first principles". He said the government’s proposed changes to developer contributions, published alongside the draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) earlier this year, were intended to bring "pragmatic" improvements to make the Community Infrastructure Levy and section 106 agreements more efficient and transparent. "I would suspect that is the space that we are going into," he added. He said that the government would respond to the feedback it had received from the developer contributions consultation "very soon", and that it was likely to announce a further consultation. Gallagher’s remarks follow Malthouse’s comments last month that the 1961 Land Compensation Act did not need to be amended in the way suggested by the House of Commons housing communities and local government select committee. But, in an interview published in Planning earlier this month (Planning, 12 October, p16), Malthouse also made clear that he wants to find other ways to capture land value uplift to help finance new communities.

3. The revised National Planning Policy Framework provides new opportunities for small to medium- sized rural housing, a lawyer told delegates. Thrings associate solicitor Ros Trotman said that the broader definition of affordable housing in the framework is "good news for developers and landowners ... as it may help to overcome viability issues, particularly for the smaller scale schemes". She also highlighted as an opportunity the "brand new concept" of entry-level exception sites, allowing homes suitable for first-time buyers or equivalent renters on land that wouldn’t normally be allocated for housing adjacent to existing settlements. The framework’s stipulation that councils ensure that ten per cent of their housing need should be accommodated on sites of one hectare or less could also provide opportunities for small housebuilders, she said.

4. Neighbourhood plans represent a huge opportunity for landowners and developers, a senior housebuilder told delegates. "For parties that get involved in the process, it’s a huge opportunity to get housing schemes away faster," said Taylor Wimpey land director Andrew Thorley. "If you can link your site to helping meet local need for things like improved green spaces or infrastructure, you’ll find there’s a way to get it through". He advised landowners not to be too cautious about raising development ambitions with their local communities. "I encourage you to rip the plaster off as soon as you can," he said. "Get your site in the process and get the local planning authority engaged with the neighbourhood plan. The earlier you do, the more people get used to it." He told landowners that the extra pressure that the revised NPPF puts on authorities to ensure that housing sites are "deliverable" means that landowners with development ambitions would be well advised to team up early with housebuilding partners. "If a council’s going to go to the trouble of allocating these sites, they need to know that they are going to come forward," he said. "So upfront work is going to be crucial. And having a partner, thinking about who is going to build the project at the end of the day, that’s going to be fundamental."

5. Developers and landowners should not assume that the Class Q agricultural-to-residential permitted development right necessarily provides a better prospect of permission than a conventional planning application, the conference was told. Hart District Council senior planning officer Stephanie Baker reported on her research, which contributed to her Master’s degree in spatial planning and development from Henley Business School, into use of the permitted development right at one unnamed local authority. As part of her work, she had compared the outcome of Class Q applications to comparable applications for conversions that had taken the conventional route. In this authority, "actually the chance of success was greater if you went through the planled system rather than Class Q," she said.

The conference was supported by Planning.

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