Planning is key to addressing some of the most important issues we are currently facing including rebalancing the economy, addressing the national housing shortage and updating our infrastructure. Amanda Beresford, a recognised leading planning lawyer, Partner and Head of Planning at Shulmans LLP, reviews some of the political parties 2015 election manifestos main planning proposals.
The main themes for all the parties in this context are housing, infrastructure, localism and rights of appeal.
All the parties recognise the need to build new homes.
The Conservatives say 200,000 new Starter Homes for first-time buyers under 40, to be sold at 20% discount, with 275,000 additional affordable homes by 2020 and 10,000 for rent at below market rates. They also aim to double the number of custom-built and self-built homes by 2020. Labour say at least 200,000 a year by 2020, with priority for local first time buyers, the Liberal Democrats promise 300,000 new homes a year, the Green Party 500,000 want new social rented homes and UKIP propose 1 million homes on brownfield sites by 2025.
All the parties are united in prioritising Brownfield as a location for new development. Only Labour fails to specifically mention the protection of the Green Belt. Beyond this each party offers a variety of ways to bring the new housing forward.
The Conservatives say they will introduce a Brownfield Fund and Housing Zones. They want local authorities to have a register of available brownfield land and ensure that 90% of suitable brownfield sites have planning permission for housing by 2020. They plan a new London Land Commission with a mandate to identify and release all surplus brownfield land owned by the public sector. They propose a new Right to Build, which would require councils to allocate land for local people to build their own home.
Labour state that they will empower local authorities to act as developers, designate Housing Growth Areas and bring in partners to take schemes forward. They want to introduce a “use it or lose it” power to encourage developers to build. This could include penalising land developers who land bank and reducing the usual life of a planning permission from 3 to 2 years. They propose a New Homes Corporations, with power to buy land, to be set up as partnerships between the private sector, housing associations and investors. They say they will ensure the inspectorate can demand cross border co-operation in some planning matters including housing.
The Liberal Democrats want to create new powers to ensure development happens on unused public sector sites, review compulsory purchase legislation to facilitate site assembly and introduce a Government Commissioning Programme to boost housebuilding, whereby government agencies would directly commission homes for sale and rent to fill any gaps in market delivery. They will require local authorities to plan for 15 years of housing need and to work collaboratively with neighbouring councils to identify the size of the need. They propose strengthening the duty to co-operate and helping authorities with insufficient space within their own boundary to meet housing demand through development on sites beyond their boundaries. They would in addition end the permitted development rights for converting offices to residential use and attach planning conditions to new developments to ensure homes are occupied.
UKIP want local authorities to use planning to bring empty properties back into use and the environment agency to compile a national brownfield site register. They propose a number of fiscal measures to encourage brownfield sites to be brought back into use. They want central and local government to identify land they own that can be released for affordable housing and to encourage local authorities to require a proportion of self-build plots to be provided in all larger developments. They will relax planning regulations for the conversion of off high road commercial, office and other buildings, to affordable residential use.
The Green Party want to prevent new building on flood plains and ensure development is more evenly distributed across the whole of the country to reduce pressure on the south east. They also propose to introduce an Empty Property Use Order to bring empty properties back into use.
Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats all see new garden cities as part of the answer to where all of these new homes will go. The Conservatives refer to these as being locally led and the Liberal Democrats say there will be at least ten new garden cities in areas where there is local support.
Of course all of the ways of encouraging house builders to build will not work if planning permissions are not granted and none of the parties propose additional resources for local planning authorities to grant planning permissions quickly nor proposals to speed up the allocation of residential development sites in adopted local plans. Its also not clear whether or not, in areas where local plans are not yet established, housebuilding targets will have to be increased.
There is a marked difference between approaches to infrastructure provisions with a clear split on HS2, although both Labour and Conservatives support it. Another dividing factor is onshore windfarms.
Labour wants an independent National Infrastructure Commission, with a priority for flood protection, to assess Britain’s infrastructure needs, make recommendations to government, then monitor and hold government to account for implementation. Labour support HS2, but want to keep costs down and improve rail links across the North.
The Conservatives say they are committed to HS2 and developing HS3 in the north with investment in the rail and road network, including building a Northern Hub. They also want investment in roads with specific schemes identified. They propose ending any new public subsidy for onshore windfarms and to change the law so that local people have the final say on windfarm applications.
The Liberal Democrats want to shift more freight from road to rail and change planning law to ensure new development provide good freight access to retail, manufacturing and warehouse facilities. They want to encourage onshore wind in appropriate locations stating that they will end interference in local planning decisions for windfarms by government ministers.
The Green Party would replace prestigious projects such as HS2 with accessible local transport. They want to end major road building programmes and place the emphasis on new development prioritising walking, cycling and public transport.
UKIP say they would scrap HS2.
None of the parties clearly articulate the provision of a National Spatial Plan to show where new national infrastructure would go.
Localism, Rights of Appeal and other Planning Matters
All the parties have some commitment to empowering local communities in planning. Neither Labour nor the Conservatives propose any specific changes to the planning appeal regime but the other three parties all include proposals to change the rights to appeal planning decisions.
The Conservatives want the 1,400 communities engaged in neighbourhood planning to complete the process and to assist others to draw up their own plans. They state that they want local communities to know up-front that necessary infrastructure such as schools and roads will be provided when new homes are granted planning permission. They will support Business Improvement Districts and other forms of business-led collaboration on high streets, giving more say to local traders on issues such as minor planning applications, cleaning and parking.
Labour want to give local communities more power to shape their high streets and give power to Councils to require particular types of shops.
The Liberal Democrats propose a community right of appeal in cases where planning decisions go against the approved local plan, or a local plan that is emerging and has undergone substantive consultation. They also want to prevent developers appealing planning decisions that are in line with the local plan and create new planning conditions to ensure local communities benefit from increased housing supply. They will require planning permission to be obtained to convert pubs to alternative uses.
The Green Party will introduce a community right of appeal where a development is non-compliant with a neighbourhood plan or local plan, repeal the NPPF and the presumption in favour of economic development, restrict the ability of the Secretary of State to call in planning applications and restrict the right of applicants to appeal only where there has been an error in the planning process. They want to strengthen local authority’s powers to prevent changes of use for important community facilities such as local shops, pubs and meeting halls. They also want to give local authorities planning powers to support local shops and businesses through planning policies, including business conservation areas, and ensure that all planning decisions take into account active travel and public transport implications and reduce the need for car parking spaces in new developments.
UKIP would allow large developments to be overturned by a local referendum. They also want to reduce the cost and bureaucracy of planning applications by merging planning and building control departments in local authorities, introduce a presumption in favour of conservation and create seaside town status for coastal areas in need of regeneration and give local authorities additional powers in these areas.
Of course, manifesto pledges are not legally binding and if, as predicted by some, a further coalition government emerges there will be compromises. Nevertheless, it seems clear that for most of the possible outcomes of the election, planning in future will have to continue to deal with the sometimes competing challenges of providing significant new sites for housing, increased power to local communities and continued emphasis on local plans- all without further resources.