Johnson's spell as mayor suggests focus on deregulation might be limited, by John Geoghegan

With Parliament in recess and the High Court closed, August is typically a month when planning policy and legal activity grinds to a halt. But this year, there's plenty for Planning readers to catch up on during their summer holidays.

At the end of last month, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) published no fewer than 23 updates to its Planning Practice Guidance. We take a look at some of the updates, including new advice on minimising the use of planning conditions, estate regeneration and housing for different social groups, such as students and residents in rural areas.

Planners should also be prepared for an upsurge in activity this autumn. New Prime Minister Boris Johnson has promised a review of planning regulations in an effort to boost housebuilding. While some key figures in the new administration have called for far-reaching deregulatory changes, Johnson’s track record as London mayor suggests he is unlikely to go too far down this path. Informed commentators predict that the Prime Minister is likely to see the public sector as key to increasing housing delivery and will consider boosting infrastructure development while seeking to maintain the previous administration’s focus on good design.

While we have plenty of insight into Johnson’s planning track record, the new ministerial team at MHCLG are less well-known. However, observers expect a degree of synergy with Johnson’s direction of travel. Johnson is well-known for his support for large infrastructure projects. The new housing secretary Robert Jenrick, a strong supporter of High Speed Two, is seen as likely to buy into this. And the new housing minister Esther McVey, like Johnson, appears to be committed to protecting the green belt. Readers can find out more from McVey herself about the new administration’s planning intentions when she delivers the keynote speech at our Planning for Housing conference on 17 November. 

With such wholesale change at the top of government, some commentators have expressed concerns about the fate of some of the previous administration’s ongoing policy work, such as the Accelerated Planning Green Paper. But the Housing Infrastructure Fund (HIF) is one key programme the new government has been quick to back. On Monday, chancellor Sajid Javid announced £600 million for five infrastructure projects in London, Essex and Bedfordshire to raise housebuilding in those areas.

The location of these schemes in the Greater South East will come as little surprise to those who have followed HIF allocations. Our feature on the HIF’s progress to date shows funding has been overwhelmingly directed to England’s southern regions – more than 80 per cent of the £2.1 billion allocated so far. Experts note that areas that have secured cash typically have a long history of planning for growth. One of the successful bidders, Cornwall Council, points out that its proactive approach to housing delivery, including jointly funding the infrastructure required alongside government cash and setting up its own development firm, was likely to have been a key factor that went in its favour.

John Geoghegan, deputy editor, Planning // john.geoghegan@haymarket.com


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