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  • Helen Winkler

Imminent Changes to the Planning System

On 6th August 2020, the Government launched a consultation, until 1st October 2020, on ‘Changes to the current planning system: Consultation on changes to planning policy and regulations’. This was published alongside the ‘Planning for the Future’ White Paper which is out to consultation until 29th October 2020. The significant proposed changes to the planning system outlined in the White Paper are summarised in a series of separate articles which can be viewed on our website

The ‘Changes to the current planning system: Consultation on changes to planning policy and regulations’ seeks to introduce four main changes to the current planning system, effectively interim changes before the ambitious overhaul of the planning system set out in the White Paper is progressed (for further information on the White Paper please 'click' on the link below to view topics and directions to each article).

These are summarised below:

Changes to the Standard Method for Assessing Housing Need

The consultation document proposes changes to the standard method for assessing housing need are introduced through planning guidance in the short-term. According to the consultation document, the new standard method would result in an annual housing need figure of 337,000 nationally. Under the amended methodology, local authorities would be expected to take into account levels of existing housing stock and changes in affordability over the last ten years, as well as future household projections when calculating housing need.

The higher figure of either 0.5 per cent of their existing housing stock or the latest projected average annual household growth over the next ten years would be used as the baseline for housing need. The current cap on housing need of 40% above and housing need figure adopted by a local planning authority within the last 5 years would be removed.

Councils that are already close to adopting local plans will be exempt from adopting the new standard method immediately under proposed transition arrangements.

Local authorities that have already published a Regulation 19 local plan (final draft submission version) for consultation will be given six months to submit this to the Planning Inspectorate for examination. Authorities close to publishing a Regulation 19 local plan will be given three months to do so and a further six months after the date of publication to submit this for examination.

The consultation document does not stipulate how quickly after adoption of a local plan the new standard method housing need figure will need to be adopted by the council. The only indication we currently have is set out within the February 2019 National Planning Policy Framework, paragraph 33, which states, ‘…Relevant strategic policies will need updating at least once every five years if their applicable local housing need figure has changed significantly; and they are likely to require earlier review if local housing need is expected to change significantly in the near future.’

Planning consultancy Lichfields have published comparison figures showing what the new housing methodology would mean for different local authorities when compared to the calculation under the current standard method.

A few West midland examples are set out below:

  • Solihull - 885 dwellings per annum (dpa) proposed in their most recent consultation document, which includes 2,000 cross-boundary allowance, would increase to 1011 dpa

  • Bromsgrove - 379 dpa under the current standard method would increase to 694 dpa

  • Coventry - 1,722 dpa under the current standard method would increase to 2,676 dpa

  • Warwick – 627 dpa under the current standard method would increase to 910 dpa

  • Stratford-on-Avon - 603 dpa under the current standard method would increase to 1,675 dpa

  • North Warwickshire - 171 dpa under the current standard method would increase to 439 dpa

Meanwhile, Birmingham City’s housing need would fall from 3,577dpa to 3,056dpa under the proposed new standard method.

Securing First homes

The consultation document proposes introduction of a requirement for ‘First Homes’ to be sold at at a discount to market price for first time buyers, with local connections, including key workers, through developer contributions.

Under the proposals, a minimum of 25% of affordable housing secured through developer contributions would be expected to be ‘First homes’ instead. The requirement would apply to both on-site provision of affordable housing and in cases where developers make cash contributions.

Temporarily increasing the affordable housing small sites threshold

The consultation document proposes an initial 18 month temporarily lifting of the small site threshold, below which developers do not need to contribute to affordable housing. The threshold would be increased from the current 10 units up to 40 or 50 units.

The temporary change is aimed at helping small and medium-sized housebuilders affected by Covid-19 by making sites more viable and reducing Section 106 negotiation time which should speed up delivery.

The consultation document recognises that there will be a ‘…trade-off between introducing measures to increase the number of developable small sites and the importance of securing section 106 planning obligations to deliver affordable housing…’

Official estimates included in the consultation document estimate that the proposal could reduce delivery of affordable units via developer contributions by between 7 and 20 percent.

Extending the current Permission in Principle to major developments

The consultation document proposes extending the current Permission in Principle from sites in part 2 of the brownfield land register and small development proposals, to major development (not subject to EIA or habitats assessments). According to the consultation document, currently, 84% of planning applications for residential development are for schemes of 10-150 homes.

The aim is to provide landowners and developers with a fast route to secure the principle of development for housing on sites without the need for detailed plans and with lower fees.

Permission in Principle would continue to only be granted for development that is housing-led. Non-housing development that is compatible and well-integrated into residential development could be permitted to help to create sustainable neighbourhoods.

It is proposed that the existing determination regulations for Permission in Principle would also apply to major developments. This includes the 5-week determination period and the 14-day period for consultation with the public and statutory consultees.


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