While housing minister Robert Jenrick is coming under mounting political pressure for allegedly fixing the planning system to the benefit of a Tory donor, an attempt to return focus to positives saw him set out measures “to get Britain building”, as cliché mongers in the ministry insist on putting it
The main news is that any planning permission with an expiry date between 23rd March (start of lockdown) and 31st December 2020 will be automatically extended to 1st April 2021. This move is designed to enable projects, delayed only because of the lockdown, to avoid having to go through the planning system again.
The government estimates that by the end of June 2020, more than 400 residential permissions providing more than 24,000 new homes would have expired. The new measures will help these developments and more resume as the economy recovers.
The extension of planning permission follows representation from building industry groups, who asked for a one-year extension to all current planning permissions.
The secondary news from the housing ministry is that the Planning Inspectorate (PINS) is now allowed to use more than one procedure – written representations, hearings and inquiries – at the same time when dealing with a planning appeal, enabling appeals to happen faster.
Last year a pilot programme tested this approach and implemented recommendations of the Rosewell Review, which more than halved the time taken for appeal inquiries, from 47 weeks to 23 weeks.
The ministry said that this reform would make it easier for developers and contractors to agree longer site working hours with local authorities for a temporary period. More flexible site working hours, announced last month, is designed to make it easier for builders to avoid rush hour and to work longer days to get delayed jobs finished.
Robert Jenrick is currently trying to face down allegations of selling favours, after granting planning permission to publisher Richard Desmond for a £1bn scheme to turn the site of Westferry Printworks in London Docklands into 44-storey housing. Richard Desmond, a Conservative Party donor, had dinner with the secretary of state at a party fundraiser. A few weeks later Mr Jenrick overruled both the local council and the planning inspector’s recommendation and gave the scheme planning permission – a day before a new community infrastructure levy (CIL) came into force that would have required Mr Desmond to pay an extra £40m to Tower Hamlet Council.
Housing secretary Robert Jenrick said yesterday: “Building the homes the country needs is central to the mission of this government and is an important part of our plans to recover from the impact of the coronavirus.
“New laws will enable us to speed up the pace of planning appeals and save hundreds of construction sites from being cancelled before they have a chance to get spades in the ground, helping to protect hundreds of thousands of jobs and create many others.
“Taken together, these measures will help to keep workers safe and our economy moving as we work together to bounce back from the pandemic.”
The extension of planning permissions was welcomed by one of the groups that had been asking for it, the National Federation of Builders (NFB).
NFB chief executive Richard Beresford said: “This request was put to MHCLG and the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) a month ago and once again, the government has listened to industry. Extending expiring planning permissions will secure jobs, give the supply chain certainty and ensure businesses still have a pipeline of work to deliver. It’s great news.”
James Thomson, chief executive of Gleeson Homes, which specialises in starter homes and lower cost housing, said: “Plans to extend planning permission deadlines will help to get housing delivery back on track, as thousands of sites will be saved from repeating planning processes. But in the longer-term the government should think more innovatively about how we can continue to deliver at pace, to meet the housing needs of the next generation. While it’s promising to see flexibility introduced into the planning system to combat the impact of Covid-19, greater reform is needed to speed up the pace of planning on a more permanent basis to create a more meaningful impact.”
Dave Sheridan, chairman of prefab manufacturer Ilke Homes, said: "The government's new measures to help the construction industry boost house building are welcome. Speed will be of paramount importance as the industry tries to get back on track. Pre-Covid-19 we were already missing the target of building 250,000 new homes a year by some margin, and if we are to recover fast and effectively, then increasing the uptake of modern methods of construction must be a priority.
"Manufacturing homes offsite means they can be delivered twice as quickly as those built using traditional methods and with much less disruption to local communities, enabling flexible working hours on construction sites. This is a crucial time, and unless we innovate now, we will be facing an ever-deepening housing crisis."