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What’s Labour’s plan for planning? What we know and what the new Government could consider

Insight

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The country has voted and we have a new prime minister moving into Downing Street. Deputy Prime Minister, Angela Rayner has promised to unveil the Government’s new housebuilding programme within days with at least three housing announcements expected in the next 14 days. It is time for Labour’s plan for planning to be put into action, but what can we expect to be at the top of the planning agenda?

  1. Make a statement, specifically Written Ministerial Statements (WMS)
    Labour is likely to inform developers about their proposed changes to the planning regime in their first 100 days. Many of Labour’s manifesto planning pledges will require legislative changes, which will take time due to the consultation process.

    WMS are a quick way of communicating procedure and policy initiatives of Government departments and could help bridge any interim period before National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and legislative change is effective. Changes brought about by WMS or to the Planning Practice Guidance (PPG) do not need to be consulted on and are consequently speedy mechanisms for planning policy change.

  1. Expect “immediate” updates to the NPPF
    Sir Keir Starmer in an article for Inside Housing (26 June 2024) wrote that “a Labour Government would immediately update the National Policy Planning Framework”. We understand that a draft NPPF is expected to be published before the end of the month.

    Whilst it is true that it is easier to change policy than it is to change legislation, changes to the NPPF would still take six to twelve months to come into effect due to the requirement for consultation. So, any updates to the NPPF will not immediately change the existing policy position.

    We expect the NPPF changes to focus on strengthening the presumption in favour of sustainable development in addition to reversing changes made to the NPPF in December 2023, as pledged. We can therefore expect mandatory housing targets for individual local planning authorities to return in six months to a year.

  1. Identify the grey belt from the green belt
    Labour promised a strategic approach to green belt land so that so called “grey belt” land (eg disused carparks) is released for building. Angela Raynor said that she would write to local planning authorities, to instruct them to review their green belt land in order to identify potential grey belt areas. We expect this to occur within the next three weeks.

    The manifesto mentions that development of grey belt areas will be governed by golden rules, although there is no explanation as to what these are. We can expect that the golden rules will be announced at some point in the next 100 days. These rules will be critical for developers and local communities to ensure they strike the right balance between enabling development whilst also allowing local communities to shape housebuilding in their area, another Labour pledge. However, if local planning authorities decide against development on newly designated grey belt land, the government may step in, despite the wishes of the local community. Labour have consistently promised a tougher approach on so-called “nimby” councils.

  1. 300 new planning officers over the parliamentary term
    One of Labour’s manifesto commitments, the 300 new planning officers are to be funded by £20 million of revenue generated from increasing stamp duty on purchases of non-residential property by non-UK residents by 1 percent.

    This equates to less than one new officer per council area which is expected to plug existing gaps as opposed to bolstering existing resources. We do not expect a significant increase in case officers any time soon to assist with the existing high case load faced by many local planning authorities. Labour will presumably have to look at making the changes to stamp duty before it can fund their new hires.

What other measures could Labour consider?

  1. Support for building on small sites
    It has been increasingly difficult for small sites providing less than 250 homes to gain planning consent. A recent report prepared by Savills on behalf of the Land, Planning and Developers Federation and Richborough (a strategic land promotion business) found that there was a 42 percent decline in the number of small sites granted consent in 2023 compared to 2017.

    It is clear that if Labour want to meet their housing target of building 1.5 million homes over the next five years, they will need to empower development on small sites rather than just their larger “new towns”. Supporting SME developers and builders would also help break the dominance of the large housebuilders in the sector.

    This could be achieved by financial support initiatives for SME developers and builders as well as changes to the NPPF so that sites of up to one hectare do not need to accommodate at least 10 percent of the local planning authorities housing requirement.

  1. Use existing mechanisms to encourage placemaking
    As set out in the Farrer & Co and ADAM Architecture’s Placemaking Two Report, the current planning and tax regimes do not encourage or support development driven by placemaking and stewardship.

    The Government could consider utilising existing mechanisms available to them without legislative or policy changes to encourage placemaking and patient development. For example, local development orders or public-private joint ventures (subject to compliance with public procurement rules) help to derisk the planning process for investors and developers whilst also ensuring necessary infrastructure is delivered in a considered and effective manner.

  1. Reward good practice
    It can sometimes feel as though developers are public enemy number one (or two after bankers). Indeed, many of the legislative changes over recent times have been accompanied by the rhetoric that we need to clamp down on developers or inadequately performing local planning authorities. Labour have signalled that they will take tough action on local planning authorities that do not have up-to date local plans. Whilst sanctions for poor performance is certainly an option available to encourage minimum performance targets, the Government could consider how “good” performance could be encouraged.

    In defining “good” performance, aspects such as community engagement and other placemaking initiatives could be incorporated into any performance criteria. Not only could it incentivise otherwise non-incentivised public benefits, but it would also assist in changing the narrative surrounding those operating in the sector, whether that be public or private entities.

We await further details of Labour’s plan for planning “to deliver the biggest boost to social and affordable housing in a generation” and “reform” our planning system. It remains to be seen whether Labour really can get Britain building again, but only time will tell.

This publication is a general summary of the law. It should not replace legal advice tailored to your specific circumstances.

© Farrer & Co LLP, July 2024

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About the authors

Amy Penrose lawyer

Amy Penrose

Associate

Amy specialises in all aspects of contentious and non-contentious planning and development law. She acts for a variety of land owners, investors, lenders, developers, objectors and private individuals, helping them to navigate the planning and consenting regimes in England and Wales. As well as drafting and negotiating statutory agreements, she provides clients with strategic and technical advice in both transactional and development contexts. Amy’s dynamic approach is commercial, client focused and proactive.

Amy specialises in all aspects of contentious and non-contentious planning and development law. She acts for a variety of land owners, investors, lenders, developers, objectors and private individuals, helping them to navigate the planning and consenting regimes in England and Wales. As well as drafting and negotiating statutory agreements, she provides clients with strategic and technical advice in both transactional and development contexts. Amy’s dynamic approach is commercial, client focused and proactive.

Email Amy +44 (0)20 3375 7820
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