Johnson needs more of the profit from permissions to make development more popular, by Richard Garlick

There are two distinct philosophies apparent in emerging Conservative planning policy. The first was prominent in the party's election manifesto. It seeks to strengthen planning to ensure that development benefits, or at least does not harm, local communities.

Accordingly, the manifesto promises to empower councils to make developers fund discounted homes for sale to local people. It says new rules will prevent new housing from being occupied before supporting infrastructure is in place. And it tells residents that they will get more control over the design of local development.

By contrast, the second Tory planning philosophy holds that many of the country’s planning problems could be addressed by stripping councils of various powers. This set of ideas was almost invisible in the manifesto, but was central to the planning changes that the government was working up before the election. Housing secretary Robert Jenrick proposed to extend permitted development (PD) rights to allow some existing buildings to be extended upwards to provide new homes. He also planned to give permission in principle to the demolition of offices to make way for new homes, while reducing planning conditions by a third.

The first approach, which would increase regulation, seems to conflict with the second, which would dismantle it. Of course, there’s nothing wrong in seeking to tightly control aspects of development you see as potentially harmful, while applying a lighter touch in less sensitive areas. But some of the development on which the Conservatives have either relaxed, or intend to relax, planning rules – such as the conversion or demolition of offices to provide housing – is highly contentious and should be subject to full planning scrutiny.

There is particular tension between the new government’s pledge to put roads, schools and other necessary infrastructure in place before allowing new homes to be occupied, and its appetite for broadening permitted development. Developers who gain consent through PD rights are not required to fund supporting infrastructure through planning obligations. Hence the more types of development that are granted PD rights, the harder it becomes for authorities to fund the required infrastructure.

The planning obligation giveaway to developers who use PD rights is a glaring example of how the public purse fails to capture its rightful share of the land value uplift generated by planning permission. Chancellor Sajid Javid, with the backing of Jenrick and housebuilder Tony Pidgley of Berkeley Group, have said that the Treasury should take a bigger share of such uplifts. Restricting permitted development, or at least ending its automatic exemption from planning obligations, would be a good start.

Richard Garlick, editor, Planning //  

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