The year in headlines

Greta Thunberg and Sir Roger Scruton shared the 2019 Planning headlines with more familiar faces.

Greta Thunberg: campaigner blasted 'absurd' UK planning laws (pic: Getty)
Greta Thunberg: campaigner blasted 'absurd' UK planning laws (pic: Getty)


Revised Greater Manchester spatial plan cuts green belt allocations by 50%

An updated version of the emerging Greater Manchester Spatial Framework slashes the amount of green belt land to be allocated for new homes by half and cuts its housing target compared to a previous version. Later in the year, Planning reveals the government is withdrawing a £68 million infrastructure funding package as a result of the lower target.


Review concludes that inquiry times could be ‘slashed by more than half’

Bridget Rosewell’s government-commissioned review of the planning inquiry process concludes that the average duration of the inquiries could be halved from 47 weeks to around 26 weeks, through improved IT and administration.

One in three councils sanctioned under housing delivery test

A third of local authorities face sanctions under the government’s new housing delivery test. 86 councils are required to provide land for 20 per cent more housing than is needed to meet their five year housing target, as a penalty for delivering less than 85 per cent of the homes needed over three years, while 108 must produce an action plan after delivering less than 95 per cent.

Government proposes National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) changes

Proposed revisions to the NPPF published by the government include allowing councils to use an alternative approach to the government’s standard method in "exceptional circumstances"; clarifying that non-major sites with outline planning permission should be considered deliverable; and spelling out that schemes that could harm protected wildlife habitats will only benefit from the NPPF’s presumption in favour of sustainable development if an official "appropriate assessment" has shown that they have a suitable mitigation strategy in place.


First planning apprenticeship degree scheme to start in the autumn

After the government approves the first degree-level apprenticeship to train chartered town planners, the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) announces that the programme will start in the autumn. Under the scheme, apprentices will be able to earn a wage from an employer while while completing a planning qualification at an RTPI-accredited planning school.

WSP announces plans to acquire Indigo Planning

Multi-disciplinary consultancy WSP announces plans to acquire fellow consultants Indigo Planning as part of a "drive to become the top planning consultancy in the UK". Indigo employs around 90 staff in the UK and has offices in London, Birmingham, Manchester, and Leeds.


Sir Roger Scruton fired as beautiful buildings commission chair

Sir Roger Scruton is dismissed as chair of the government’s beautiful buildings commission after a controversial interview with the New Statesman. In July, Scruton is reinstated after the magazine apologises for misrepresenting his statements.

Schoolgirl environmental activist tells MPs that UK planning decisions have been ‘absurd’

Swedish schoolgirl environmental campaigner Greta Thunberg attacks UK planning policies and decisions in an address to MPs. She claims that "nothing is being done" to halt or slow carbon emissions, and criticised government support for shale gas fracking and a new coal mine as "beyond absurd".


Government updates viability guidance

Revised planning policy guidance on viability fleshes out official advice on how benchmark land values should be calculated. The same month, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors publishes guidance for its members on carrying out viability assessments 

New rights allow high street conversions to offices and homes

Permitted development (PD) rights allowing the conversion of shops and other high street uses to offices and hot food takeaways come into effect. Councils will be able to assess whether there is adequate provision of the existing use and the impact on the sustainability of shopping areas when deciding whether to allow conversions.


Developer contribution rule change allows more developer contributions to be pooled

Regulations laid before Parliament remove a restriction previously preventing more than five section 106 obligations from being used to fund a single infrastructure project. Other changes cover consultation on Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) charging schedules and powers for councils to use section 106 contributions towards monitoring and reporting on planning obligations.

Hampshire councils halt permissions over nitrate-neutral advice ‘leaving 10,000 new homes in limbo’

Eleven Hampshire authorities suspend issuing planning permissions for housing after advice from government agency Natural England that developments should only be permitted if they are nitrate-neutral.


WYG taken over by American engineering firm

One of the UK’s largest planning consultancies, WYG, is taken over by US consulting and engineering services provider Tetra Tech in a deal reportedly worth £43 million. In 2018, WYG reported a total of 115 chartered town planners and 465 planning fee-earners.

Robert Jenrick becomes new housing and communities secretary

New prime minister Boris Johnson installs Robert Jenrick as communities secretary, replacing James Brokenshire. Esher McVey also joins as a minister in the department, and is later confirmed as minister of state for housing attending cabinet meetings.

New PINS guidance requires earlier common ground statements

Appellants will be required to submit a draft statement of common ground along with their appeal submission under new guidance introduced in response to the Rosewell review. New statement of case guidance from the Planning Inspectorate includes details of information that needs to be submitted, including relevant facts and arguments likely to be relied on, areas of difference and a summary of overall conclusions.


Government updates CIL guidance

Updated planning practice guidance advises councils to consider uplifts in land value generated by planning permissions when setting CIL rates and consider bespoke charges for large-scale sites. The guidance accompanies new CIL regulations, which come into force at the start of the month.


Design guidance updated alongside new National Design Guide

The government publishes its new National Design Guide, alongside a major rewrite of its five-year-old design planning practice guidance (PPG) on design. Among the new measures, the guidance says design conditions can be imposed at the outline planning stage, "allowing for the details to be submitted for later determination as part of a reserved matters application".

Environment Bill requires ten per cent biodiversity uplift

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) publishes its much-anticipated Environment Bill, including a requirement for developers to deliver ten per cent net biodiversity gain through their schemes. Councils must produce "local nature recovery strategies", while developers will have to buy "biodiversity credits" if they can’t deliver biodiversity improvements locally.

Inspectors recommend changes to London Plan

Planning inspectors recommend that the London Plan’s overall housing target be reduced by almost 20 per cent. This is a result of a recommended cut to the target of homes to be built on small sites which the inspectors say is "neither justified nor deliverable". The plan is found sound, subject to a series of recommended modifications, including a proposed future green belt review.


Government confirms fracking moratorium

The government confirms a moratorium on fracking in England and announces that it has ditched proposals to ease planning rules for the controversial activity.

Appeal Court overturns landmark wind farm judgment on amending planning conditions

Appeal Court judges rule that a planning inspector acted "beyond her powers" in allowing a variation to conditions attached to a wind farm consent. A previous High Court judgment backing the inspector had led experts to conclude that developers would have far greater freedom to amend existing permissions.

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