What is the Planning Bill, and does it go far enough?

During the Queen's Speech which took place last month, a great deal of emphasis was placed on the building industry - namely the vital role it will play in the recovery of the economy following the Coronavirus crisis in helping to ‘level up’ infrastructure across the country.

As part of this, the Queen outlined the Planning Bill, which Ministers say is intended to make it easier to hit house-building targets with a view to stopping local opponents from blocking developments in areas that are designated ‘growth zones’.

Reflecting on the new Bill, our Associate Director Richard Dryden provides an insight into what it means in practice for the construction sector.

The Planning Bill, for many reasons, has been widely welcomed across the industry, with many commentators saying it will provide more certainty over the type, scale and design of development permitted on different types of land.

Under the proposed plans, local councils in England will have to classify all land in their area as ‘protected’, for ‘renewal’, or for ‘growth’. Subsequent applications that conform to pre-agreed local plans in areas labelled as ‘growth zones’ would gain automatic initial approval.

However, while this is definitely a step in the right direction, there is unquestionably more detail required regarding how the legislation that surrounds such matters will be brought up to speed with the rhetoric.

For example, one of the main criticisms that the Bill faces, which also happens to be its main feature, is the zonal approach to local plans for housing which is not enough to fix the current housing crisis nor create functioning, sustainable communities.

Another aspect of the Bill requiring clarity is the expected reformation of framework for local development corporations. The framework has been used in the past to deliver projects such as garden cities, towns and villages as well as urban expansion, and is a mechanism that was last reformed in the 1980s, so it is drastically out of date by modern standards.

Such a significant overhaul as proposed in the Bill must be supported by equally progressive reformations across the whole landscape.

There is also further confusion around how the new Planning Bill will address the requirement agreed by ministers that any nationally significant infrastructure projects should deliver 10% biodiversity net gain. Developers must demonstrate this based on the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) biodiversity metric and, if they do not, they cannot obtain planning permission.

Again, more detail is needed on how the legislation plans to create ‘faster procedures for approving major schemes and assessing their environmental impact’. It should be clear how this strategy will deliver tangible and measurable outcomes.

Clearly, the Planning Bill has the potential to make some serious positive changes, but the lack of detail is crippling any confidence in the legislation meeting its ultimate aim of speeding up planning processes.

Matt Roberts, Director at MAC, added: "The theory behind the planning bill is sound. Providing more certainty of the type of development permitted over the differing zones of land should provide a quicker planning process which will ultimately enable projects to complete quicker and provide more houses into the market. This can only be seen as a good thing versus the current system.

"From a cost perspective I will be interested to see how the new design code affects the build cost of each development. Across the industry we are experiencing cost tension through inflationary pressures, and any further premiums as a result of the design code could make housing unaffordable."

To read what our other Associate Director, Deb Kilvington, had to say about the Building Safety Bill outlined in the Queen’s Speech, head over to our other blog here.