The key planning announcements to look out for in today's Budget

Moves to ease the conversion of shops to homes, boost housing build-out rates and confirm plans for a major growth corridor between Oxford and Cambridge are expected to feature in the Autumn Budget, due to be unveiled by chancellor Philip Hammond at 3.30 this afternoon.

Chancellor Phillip Hammond
Chancellor Phillip Hammond

Here are three key things to look out for in the chancellor's statement, plus some other possible announcements: 

1. Final recommendations from an independent review of build-out rates on permitted housing developments are expected to be published alongside the Budget. According to the House of Commons Library’s Budget background briefing, issued last week, final recommendations from former Cabinet member Sir Oliver Letwin’s independent review will be presented to the chancellor and housing secretary James Brokenshire today. In January, Letwin was commissioned to "explain the gap between the number of planning permissions being granted against those built in areas of high demand". Letwin’s interim findings, published in June, argued that providing a greater variety of homes on large sites could boost home-building rates. Letwin also said he is "inclined to believe" that landbanking by landowners is a "serious issue for the planning system", but had found no evidence that the practice is carried out by major housebuilders. The Sunday Telegraph reported last week that Letwin will endorse calls for more land value capture to fund the construction of local infrastructure. The principle was endorsed in a Commons communities, housing and local government select committee published last month. The government has said it will consider the options for giving local authorities more powers to drive build-out. In an interview with Planning this month, housing minister Kit Malthouse said the government is still looking at ways of more effectively capturing increases in land value generated by planning permissions and that ideas would emerge before Christmas, although "it may be that some of the stuff is announced at the Budget".

2. Experts forecast that the Budget will include proposals to ease planning restrictions, possibly including new permitted development rights, on converting town centre shops to other uses, including residential. According to the BBC, the move will form part of government plans to rejuvenate failing high streets by cutting business rates and introducing a £650 million "transformation fund" to redevelop underused retail space for homes and offices, restore properties and put historic buildings back into use. The moves follow a report in July by retail expert Bill Grimsey suggesting that town centres should be refashioned as community hubs, including housing, health and leisure, entertainment, education, arts and business space and calling for amendments to the use classes system "to enable greater flexibility of building use". Nick Taylor, head of planning at consultants Carter Jonas, said: "Any proposal for permitted development rights needs careful consideration because, as we have seen with the approach to conversion of offices to residential, making things easier doesn’t necessarily make it better. One-size-fits-all approaches to planning generally don’t work, so the devil will very much be in the detail." Victoria McKeegan, planning lawyer at Norton Rose Fulbright, said: "Any new permitted development rights would need to be carefully devised in order to differentiate between different town centre areas and ensure that local authorities retain sufficient ability to ‘plan’ their town centres in accordance with their local plans."

3. Plans for a major growth corridor across between Oxford and Cambridge are expected to be given further endorsement. The Budget is expected to include a formal response to the National Infrastructure Commission’s (NIC) November 2017 proposal for a "growth arc" based on new road and rail linins between Oxford, Milton Keynes and Cambridge seen as having potential to create a million new homes by 2050. In last year's Autumn Budget, Hammond backed the vision, but the government is yet to formally respond in detail to the NIC's recommendations. When the government formally endorses NIC recommendations, they become material considerations in planning decisions. "We see the development of the corridor for economic and housing as essential," transport secretary Chris Grayling told the BBC at the weekend. On Friday, the NIC refuted claims by campaign group the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) that the project would affect a "Birmingham-sized area of countryside" and does not take sufficient account of the potential environmental impact of the proposals. The CPRE said it expects the government to announce endorsements of the NIC proposals in today's budget. In July, housing minister Kit Malthouse wrote to council leaders in the area asking for initial expressions of interest in promoting new settlements and received "something like" 14 responses by the September deadline. In an interview with Planning this month, Malthouse said the government plans to "configure" the nominating authorities into "coherent" groupings with which to negotiate infrastructure funding deals, and hopes to announce some of these "before Christmas". 

Budget: other possible key announcements

The government may respond to this spring’s consultation on the future of development contributions, which proposed the removal of pooling restrictions for section 106 receipts where Community Infrastructure Levy charges are in place. In his interview with Planning, Malthouse said some of the measures may be confirmed in the Autumn Budget.

A government response to the NIC’s National Infrastructure Assessment, published in July, is still awaited. The assessment prioritises future infrastructure spending at national level across transport, energy, waste, digital communications, water and floods management, including investment in the Oxford-Cambridge Expressway. The government has until January next year to formally respond to the NIC's recommendations.

The chancellor may take forward an announcement by Prime Minister Theresa May at last month’s Conservative Party conference that borrowing caps for councils’ housing revenue accounts will be lifted, allowing them to build more homes. The Prime Minister's announcement is included in a House of Commons Library’s Budget background briefing.

The chancellor is expected to announce a major increase, of up to £30 billion, in additional funding for road construction and maintenance, according to press reports.

The Budget is expected to include £60 million of spending on tree planting and green space improvement, along with a study of a major new park in the Thames Estuary, according to press reports.


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