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Mon July 22 2024

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Chancellor spells out planning reform priorities

8 Jul On her first full working day in the job, new chancellor of the exchequer Rachel Reeves has given details of her plans to reform the UK planning system.

Rachel Reeves
Rachel Reeves

The Labour government’s early projects include reforming the National Planning Policy Framework, reviewing greenbelt boundaries and reviving onshore wind farms.

The emphasis is all on house-building and energy generation, and local opposition will be overridden if any development is considered to be to the benefit of the economy. Transport infrastructure is barely mentioned, other than that decisions are to taken on stalled projects sooner rather than later.

In her first speech as chancellor, Rachel Reeves said: “We will reform the National Planning Policy Framework, consulting on a new growth-focused approach to the planning system before the end of the month, including restoring mandatory housing targets.

“And, as of today, we are ending the absurd ban on new onshore wind in England. We will also go further and consult on bringing onshore wind back into the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects regime, meaning decisions on large developments will be taken nationally not locally.

Second, we will give priority to energy projects in the system to ensure they make swift progress and we will build on the spatial plan for Energy by expanding this to other infrastructure sectors. 

“Third, we will create a new taskforce to accelerate stalled housing sites in our country, beginning with Liverpool Central Docks, Worcester Parkway, Northstowe and Langley Sutton Coldfield, representing more than 14,000 homes.

“Fourth, we will also support local authorities with 300 additional planning officers across the country.”

(There are 317 local authorities in England alone.)

Reeves continued “Fifth, if we are to put growth at the centre of our planning system, that means changes not only to the system itself, but to the way that ministers use our powers for direct intervention.

“The deputy prime minister [Angela Raynsford, also secretary of state at the yet-to-be-given-a-sensible-name Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities] has said that when she intervenes in the economic planning system, the benefit of development will be a central consideration and that she will not hesitate to review an application where the potential gain for the regional and national economies warrant it… and I welcome her decision to recover two planning appeals already, for data centres in Buckinghamshire and in Hertfordshire.

“The deputy prime minister will also write to local planning authorities alongside the National Planning Policy Framework consultation, making clear what will now be expected of them, including universal coverage of local plans, and reviews of greenbelt boundaries. These will prioritise brownfield and grey belt land for development to meet housing targets where needed. And our golden rules will make sure the development this frees up will allow us to deliver thousands of the affordable homes too, including more for social rent.

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“Sixth, as well as unlocking new housing, we will also reform the planning system to deliver the infrastructure that our country needs. Together, we will ask the secretaries of state for transport and energy to prioritise decisions on infrastructure projects that have been sitting unresolved for far too long.

“And finally, we will set out new policy intentions for critical infrastructure in the coming months, ahead of updating relevant National Policy Statements within the year.”

She concluded with a warning that tree huggers and nimbys will not be allowed to get in the way of economic progress.

“I know that there will be opposition to this. I’m not naïve to that,” she said. “We must acknowledge that trade-offs always exist: any development may have environmental consequences, place pressure on services, and rouse voices of local opposition. But we will not succumb to a status quo which responds to the existence of trade-offs by always saying no, and relegates the national interest below other priorities.”

Many in the construction industry welcomed the emphasis on planning reform.

Bellway chief executive Jason Honeyman said: “The ability of housebuilders to deliver new homes ultimately relies on having a planning system in place that is efficient, effective and adequately resourced. In recent years, the challenges with the planning system has acted as a significant barrier to our sector.”

National Federation of Builders (NFB) chief executive Richard Beresford said: “The NFB has been at the forefront of lobbying for planning reform, so it is exciting to have a government that understands why reforming it will deliver and sustain employment, housing, transport, regional and national strategy, and investor confidence.”

Others, however, say that tree huggers intervening in the planning process aren’t the biggest problem; it’s the skills shortage that presents the biggest hurdle to delivery.  

Federation of Master Builders (FMB) chief executive Brian Berry said: “There are many positives to take from the new chancellor’s announcement today for the nation’s local house builders. The restoration of mandatory local housebuilding targets will be crucial to meeting Labour’s ambition to build 1.5 million more homes, and it is essential that SME builders are included in this process, so that market diversity in can be restored. More information on Labour’s much-trailed ‘grey belt’ proposals are also welcome as land to develop upon is in short supply. However, the UK is currently experiencing a construction skills crisis, and there are serious questions to be asked about how deliverable any of this is, without a long-term training and skills plan to ensure the workforce is in place.

“The chancellor’s confirmation that a new draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) will be published before August, including enhanced presumptions in the planning system in favour of sustainable development is a positive step forward and one that should help local house builders. To pull this off will require government departments working in tandem to ensure we have the skilled workers available to deliver these plans. The government now needs to address how the skills shortage will be tackled.”

Among construction company executive in the audience at the Treasury to hear Rachel Reeves' speech were bosses from Wates, Balfour Beatty and Mace as well as housing developers Berkeley, Barratt and Landsec. Jacobs, the US consulting engineer, was also represented, along with big US banks like Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America and JP Morgan.

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