For a system which many think of as riddled with delays and which prevents speedy development, the planning regime has seen some rapid changes throughout this current Covid-19 crisis.

Last week we saw the changes to permitted development rights and the introduction of the Business and Planning Bill summarised eloquently by my colleague, Nicola Gooch, in her article.

This week brings Boris Johnson’s speech and the introduction of ‘Project Speed’ to get the country building again.  Whilst the speech was short on detail, it was a speech after all, it did give us a clear pathway to the patchwork of woodlands which will energise our souls and the urban regeneration which will follow.

Pre-lockdown Robert Jenrick, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, gave us the outline of the planning reforms likely to come following on from the Conservative Party manifesto pledges.  We discussed the ‘Building Better Building Beautiful’ paper here, now we can talk about ‘building greener, building, better, building faster’.

So what do we know about the detail?  The planning white paper will be issued in July, not September as previously thought (note the Environment Bill has been pushed back to September), there will be extra funds for the Town Funds project which is hoped to re-energise town centres and high streets, more money for road and rail improvements, better connectivity throughout the United Kingdom for people and goods to move around swifter and more efficiently, a focus on rail projects alongside HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail, 30,000 hectares of tree planting to create a patchwork of woodland, better access to fibre optic broadband and a focus on greener transport especially in urban areas.

There was also mention of science, technology and innovation being key to the country’s success, building back greener means using this innovation to find new ways of achieving our net zero targets across a range of business sectors.  In addition to this the re-introduction of renewable energy, battery storage, carbon capture and nuclear energy by the Prime Minister will bring welcome relief to the renewable energy sector which has for too long suffered by the restrictions imposed upon it by the previous Conservative Governments.

Following on from Boris Johnson's speech, Robert Jenrick issued a letter to the Members of Parliament of England.  In the letter he outlines more details to the various schemes and changes.  Most notably these are:

  • changes of use and the creation of a new category of 'commercial, business and service' which is to allow these uses to adapt to changing circumstances in the hope it will help local high streets
  • regeneration of vacant and redundant buildings - making best use of brownfield land and underused buildings
  • upwards extensions
  • increasing home ownership via the Affordable Homes Programme which will deliver up to 180,000 homes over the next 8 years
  • £450 million fund to SME builders
  • the identification of 'shovel ready' projects and access to £900 million fund to deliver these projects
  • acceleration of the £3.6 billion Towns Funds project.

This is all good news, but reform needs money and time.  We would all welcome swifter decisions to be made for developments to be commenced faster, but that means more planning officers and inspectors to cope with the demand.  I have a planning appeal which has been waiting for a start date for over 6 months and this is not unusual!

I have been an advocate for greener, more sustainable development for many years.  I hope this is the start of building greener, as the BEIS Committee said this week, if we don’t start to address this we are facing an even greater global crisis then the one we are currently living through.  Hopefully this is the ‘greenprint’ we need to start the green recovery and level up our towns and cities.