Planning changes highlighted in Queen’s SpeechPrint publication
The Queen’s Speech was delivered to both Houses of Parliament on 27 May, outlining the Government’s legislative plans for the parliamentary session ahead. While there was no stand-alone planning bill, the Speech highlights a number of changes with planning implications, impacting on those with responsibility for developments of all shapes and sizes. The changes include further reforms to the planning system intended to boost housing supply and alterations to the Nationally Significant Infrastructure regime to restrict the spread of onshore wind farms. In addition, devolution measures have been unveiled to give more power to England’s cities in relation to housing, transport, and planning.
Walker Morris’ Planning & Environment team provide a brief overview of several of the Bills proposed.
Once again, the Queen’s Speech saw the Government renew its commitment to housing delivery and increasing home ownership. Initial application is limited to England and the planning provisions cater for England only. Any subsequent application to Wales for the other elements of the Bill is left to the Welsh Government.
The Bill aims to achieve the above by:
- Requiring local authorities to dispose of high-value, vacant council houses. Monies raised should then be used to fund the extension of the Right to Buy scheme and ensure building of more affordable homes.
- Encouraging wider uptake of the Right to Buy, by increasing the levels of discount available and extending the scheme to housing association tenants.
- Providing the necessary statutory framework to support delivery of approximately 200,000 starter homes, ideally on brownfield sites and with a proposed 20% discount for first-time buyers below the 40-year age threshold.
- Requiring local planning authorities to give support to registered custom and self-builders, so suitable plots of land can be identified for future building / commissioning of house-building for private residential purposes. This looks to implement the administration’s Right to Build initiative.
- Simplifying the neighbourhood planning system and enabling faster decisions, with the intention this will correspondingly support housing growth.
- Introducing a statutory register for brownfield land. This is intended to assist in reaching the government target of local development orders being in place on 90% of suitable brownfield sites by 2020 and thereby encourage the ‘brownfield first’ approach for new developments.
The Energy Bill includes measures to:
- Establish the Oil and Gas Authority as an independent regulator, with responsibility for regulating domestic oil and gas recovery.
- Transfer responsibility to local planning authorities for decision-making in relation to consent for large onshore wind farms in England and Wales. The previous role of the energy secretary in such decision-making is to be relinquished, at least for onshore farms above 50 megawatts.
- Amend the National Planning Policy Framework, so as to give effect to the manifesto commitment that local communities will have a determinative voice in relation to applications for onshore wind farms.
- Increase “energy security” and ensure “affordable and reliable energy” for both domestic and commercial use.
Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill
Via the measures contained in the Devolution Bill, it is proposed that powers over housing, transport and planning (as well as policing) will be transferred from central government to England’s cities. The aim is that this will help encourage local growth and economic regeneration. In particular, the legislative framework is to be put in place to ensure delivery of the Greater Manchester deal and the successful devolution of such powers when Greater Manchester elects a mayor in two years’ time. The hope is that other future deals will follow, with large cities electing mayors if desired and moving towards creation of a ‘Northern Powerhouse’.
The hybrid High Speed Rail (London – West Midlands) Bill 2013-14 was originally published during November 2013, but with the expectation that it could take approximately two and a half years to progress through Parliament. Last year’s Queen’s Speech therefore saw a carry-over motion being agreed.
In the current HS2 Bill, the government is now moving forward with legislation to enable work to begin on the £50 billion rail-link. It will give the government the power to construct and operate phase 1 of the HS2 railway, via compulsory purchase or temporary possession powers. It also looks to introduce deemed planning permission for HS2 between London and the West Midlands. If smooth progress is made, Royal Assent should be granted in late 2016. Work is expected to begin in 2017, with completion during 2026.
Prime Minister, David Cameron, has referred to the overall legislative programme – which includes in excess of 25 bills – as “challenging but doable; optimistic but realistic”. Little in the Queen’s Speech was completely unexpected, with many of the proposals having been in the pipeline for some time.
The Housing Bill and Devolution Bill in particular were much-anticipated and featured strongly in the Conservatives’ general election manifesto. However, the Housing Bill in particular has an extensive scope and its impact will be felt in a variety of ways. The proposed extension of the Right to Buy initiative has met with considerable opposition from housing associations, raising concerns that housing stock will be lost and this will, in turn, limit the ability to obtain further finance for funding of ongoing housing development.