In his Autumn Statement, the Chancellor made several changes to the planning system including allocating money to end the planning permission logjam.
Ending the backlog
The Chancellor pledged that £32 million would be made available in this financial year and the next “to tackle planning backlogs in local planning authorities” and help deliver more new homes.
This includes a new planning “super squad” of experts to work on major applications and a £24million Planning Skills Delivery Fund to increase capacity in the planning system.
Councils will also be able to recover the full costs of some major planning applications in return for meeting faster deadlines – if they miss those deadlines, the businesses making the applications get their fee refunded.
There are concerns in some quarters that this new premium planning service could see council’s prioritising larger commercial development over householder schemes. We are also still waiting for clarity on who will pay for what – will the Treasury be reimbursing planning authorities, or will refunds for late decisions come out of council budgets?
And if councils are to receive the full cost of determining a planning application if they meet the deadlines, does that mean application fees will go up to cover those costs?
In the short term, the measures announced in the Autumn Statement also won’t tackle one of the biggest cause of the backlog in the planning system, which is a shortage of skilled planning officers.
Local development orders
The Chancellor announced that £5 million would be invested to encourage more use of local development orders in England, to speed up planning permission for key commercial projects.
The Government plans to consult on a possible new permitted development right which would allow houses to be split into two flats without needing full planning permission. This right could only be used where the exterior of the house was unchanged.
The Government also announced new permitted development rights which would end the blanket restriction on heat pumps one metre from a property boundary in England.
Nutrient neutrality mitigation schemes
Developments across large areas of the country – including here in the Marches region – have been stalled by concerns about the effects of the development on local watercourses. Schemes which are likely to add unwanted nutrients, particularly nitrogen and phosphates, to already damaged waterways have been put on hold.
The Autumn Statement included an announcement that the government will invest £110 million in nutrient neutrality mitigation schemes in both this financial year and the next, in an attempt to unlock some of these permissions and restart house building.
The Chancellor said high quality nutrient mitigation schemes could unlock up to 40,000 new homes over the next five years.
The move is likely to benefit developers in 74 local authority areas affected by Natural England’s nutrient neutrality rules.
It will take some time for the repercussions of all these changes – and more – to work their way through the system, amid the much-anticipated update to the National Planning Policy Framework and the emergence of the Regulations to implement the vast array of changes made by the Levelling-Up and Regeneration Act 2023 and we would advise anyone considering any development which might be impacted by these measures to get expert advice.