The Government has used the latest Budget statements to make a series of announcements about planning initiatives including proposals to give businesses an explicit role in neighbourhood-level planning, moves to accelerate the release of public sector land and the removal of the national brownfield target.
According to ‘The Plan for Growth’, a joint document prepared by the Treasury and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, ministers want businesses to “bring forward neighbourhood plans and implement planning frameworks, or to set up neighbourhood development orders”.
This would reduce the need for “additional planning consents, for example on a single or shared use industrial site or town centre”, explained the document.
The Government has stressed that business would need to work with and gain the agreement of the local community “and pass independent examination before neighbourhood plans or orders are formalised”.
The document said the nationally-imposed target for development on brownfield sites “had helped drive up land prices in certain areas and would increasingly limit the supply of new housing, which would harm first time buyers in particular”.
Ministers have stressed that this policy change would not affect the Government commitment to maintain the Green Belt, Sites of Special Scientific Interest and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) or other environmental designations.
On land auctions the Government is keen to see if it would be feasible for local authorities to auction sites with planning permission, owned either by the public sector or private landowners who want to participate.
Ministers explained that the Homes and Communities Agency will pilot elements of this starting later this year.
The Government has argued that land auctions would be a way of capturing a greater share of the land value uplift created by the granting of planning permission. The expectation is that this will work alongside the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL).
Ministers are also committed to introducing measures to streamline planning application and related consents, including a 12-month guarantee for the processing of all planning applications, including any appeals.
In addition the Government has indicated it will consult on proposals to make it easier to convert commercial premises to residential. This would mean that classes B1, B2 and B8 (business general, industrial and storage) could become class C3 (residential) without the need for change of use consent.
This is in line with recommendations from think tank The Policy Exchange which has just published a study - ‘More Homes: Fewer Empty Building’s – which makes the case for allowing vacant or under used retail, industrial and office space to be converted into housing.
Authors Alex Morton and Richard Ehrman argued that despite the current housing crisis, there were currently 266,000 vacant commercial units, many of which have outlived their usefulness.
Alex Morton said: “Relaxing the planning rules to make it easier to convert commercial property would encourage investment, increase regeneration and create large numbers of jobs.”
24 March 2011