The news this week has been somewhat dominated by the collapse of Carillion, which means that planning news may well have slipped under the radar.
It has actually been a rather eventful few days; so, to assist those of you who are less planning-obsessed that I am*, this week's post is a digest of some of the planning related stories which you could easily have over-looked.**
1. Our new Regulator of Social Housing... and the Homes England launch
The reorganisation of the Homes and Communities Agency began last week, with MHCLG*** lauding the creation of Homes England as "one of the key steps towards delivering the homes the country needs."
For those in need of a quick history lesson, the Homes and Communities Agency, was formed in 2008 and was intended to bring the government’s housing, land and regeneration functions and the regulations of social housing providers into a single agency.
Ten years later, we are now in the process of reversing this consolidation of quangos. The ultimate goal is that there will be two separate bodies for each function: Homes England, leading the regeneration and growth agenda; and The Regulator of Social Housing, doing exactly what it says on the tin.
However, the government has not, as yet, got its legislation in place, so at the moment the restructure has been effected through an internal reorganisation, a rebrand and the purchasing of a lot of new stationery.
For all of my fellow planning lawyers, this means one thing and one thing only. It is time to double check your definitions clauses and either rename the HCA or make darned sure that it includes the rider 'or any successor body'...
2. Independent review to tackle barriers to building kicks off
The Letwin Review got underway this week. The review panel has been asked to investigate the reasons behind the gap between planning permissions granted in the UK and the number of homes actually delivered. It is being seen, by a number in the industry, as an attempt by MHCLG to prove that land banking is actually a thing - as opposed to a urban myth borne out of a deep misunderstanding of how the development industry actually functions.
This negative impression of the review is not helped by the fact that the panel, which was announced earlier this week, does not contain a single representative from the house-building industry. Instead, the review panel comprises:
- Richard Ehrman – author, small commercial property developer and former journalist. Former special adviser to the Secretary of State for Employment and subsequently Northern Ireland, onetime Chief Leader Writer of the Daily Telegraph, and former Deputy Chairman of Policy Exchange
- Lord Jitesh Gadhia – Member of House of Lords and investment banker
- Lord John Hutton – (Labour) Peer and former Secretary of State
- Rt Hon Baroness Usha Prashar CBE, PC – (Crossbench) Peer with a career spanning public, not for profit and private sectors, currently Deputy Chairman, British Council and a non-Executive Director of Nationwide Building Society
- Christine Whitehead – Emeritus Professor of Housing Economics at London School of Economics
Given this lack of representation, it is more important than ever that developers engage with the review panel, and put evidence forward to it. Without a high level of engagement there is a risk that this may turn into a huge game of 'let's blame the private sector'.
3. The Revised National Planning Policy Framework to be consulted on by the end of March.... hopefully....****
In Parliament this week, a senior civil servant at MHCLG***, Melanie Dawes, confirmed that the Ministry hoped that a consultation version of the revised NPPF would be published before Easter.
The civil servant said that the consultation would "include measures on which we have already consulted on as individual measures ... and also some measures announced in the Budget which are yet to be consulted on".
The Ministry does not have the best track record of sticking to its stated timetable for these consultations - the revised NPPF was originally promised last autumn - but with a bit of luck, we may see the consultation draft this spring.
4. Heathrow Expansion Plans appear to change.... again... and it is making people grumpy *****
Heathrow Airport has launched a public consultation seeking opinions as to how it is to actually deliver the new runway that the government has promised to build. The consultation runs until 28 March 2018 and includes a number of options that appeared to have been previously ruled out at the bid stage. In particular, the airport is seeking views on potential infrastructure options including:
- Three shortlisted options for the new north-west runway with length varying from between 3,200 and 3,500 metres
- Potential locations to expand terminal infrastructure: east of Terminal 2, west of Terminal 5 or a new satellite terminal by the new runway;
- Proposed alignment of the M25: repositioning it approximately 150 metres to the west, and lowering it by seven metres in a tunnel and raising the runway height so it passes over the M25;
- Options for changes to local roads and possible changes to two junctions leading to the M25;
- Measures to deliver "high quality mitigation" around the airport for biodiversity, the landscape and the water environment.
The lack of specificity and sheer number of new, old and evolving ideas appears to have upset a few people, as the Telegraph has reported that the promoters of a rival scheme are considering judicially reviewing the decision, as a result of the consultation proposals.
5. MCHLG confirms that the Housing Minister also cares about Planning
A mere ten days after the January reshuffle, we finally have confirmation that Dominic Raab is not only the new housing minister, but also retains responsibility for the planning portfolio. His ministerial responsibilities are listed on the Ministry's website as follows:
- Supporting the housing secretary on housing supply policy and delivery
- Housing financing streams
- Planning policy and casework oversight
- Homes England sponsorship and performance
- Land assembly and release, including public sector land
- Help to Buy
- Quality and design
- Social Housing Green Paper
If adding 'Housing' to the Secretary of State's job title was intended to show its importance to the government as a whole; the fact that planning is no longer part of the Minster's job title is probably not a good sign....
6. Local Government Association (LGA) Research reveals that Permitted Development Rights are delivering a large number of new homes - but the LGA advocates scrapping them anyway ******
The LGA published research earlier this week which established the scale of the contribution that permitted development rights allowing the conversion of buildings into residential use was having on housing delivery rates ... and then spent much of the morning advocating that the rights be scrapped.
The research showed that almost one-tenth of new homes created over the last two years were converted from offices under permitted development (PD) rights. A figure which many would see as a reason for keeping the current scheme in place - however the LGA press release instead argued that the rights were "“detrimental” to local communities and should be scrapped" on the basis that they have " led to the potential loss of 7,644 affordable homes over the last two years" and that "office space could dry up as a result" .
MHCLG's response to this research, given to Planning Resource, was as follows:
" We are determined to build the homes our country needs and permitted development rights play an important role in helping us deliver more properties.
"We need a mix of dwelling types to meet different housing needs and over 17,500 additional properties were created by converting offices in the year to March 2017."
The MHCLG also pointed out that local authorities can remove PD rights through article 4 directions where they feel this is necessary ."
I have to admit, on this one, I am inclined to side with the Ministry.....
*by which I mean, actually have a life and don't spend your evenings relaxing with a glass of wine and Planning Resource ....
** Ranked in order of relative obscurity.
*** or the Ministry of HoCoLoGo - if you believe the less reverent parts of the property press...
The Homes and Communities Agency was set up by Labour in 2008 to bring regeneration, planning, development and social housing resources in England into the hands of a single housing super-agency. It inherited significant statutory planning powers, such as compulsory purchase and plan-making, from its predecessor bodies. However, it has rarely used these powers, and in recent years has focused primarily on administering government programmes, ... Homes England chief executive Nick Walkley told Planning last week that the new body would grow to offer a "full range of development skills" to assist local authorities, and have a remit to use its statutory powers. These "development skills" will include advice, funding, assistance with plan-making and masterplanning, and potentially the ability to step in and buy land and undertake compulsory purchase orders (CPOs).