The Government’s “slimmed down” planning guidance is putting on weight

Aurora Horwood

Yesterday, Planning Minister Nick Boles announced the DCLG’s final version of its online planning practice guidance.

So is this the final culmination of the government’s efforts to streamline the National Planning Policy Framework?

Let’s take a look at what some of the reforms actually consist of.  Unsurprisingly, flooding is high on the agenda.  The government has issued “robust” guidance on flood risk, and has stated that development on flood risk sites should not be allowed unless local authorities complete stringent UK-standard tests.

Protection for the Green Belt has also been endorsed with the statement that “unmet housing need is unlikely to outweigh harm to the Green Belt”.  Furthermore, the government has rejected Labour proposals to allow councils to “undermine Green Belt protection and dump development on their neighbours’ doorstep”, torpedoing ‘right to grow’ powers for councils, at least for now.

Councils will however be able to consider the delivery record of developers and landowners when considering applications – proposed as an incentive for developers to deliver on their planning permissions.

Planning guidance also emphasises the need to ensure infrastructure is provided to support new developments and the importance of bringing brownfield land into use.  As a result, the guidance continues to encourage re-use of empty and under-used buildings.  In line with prior announcements, the government confirmed that shops and financial and professional services can be changed into homes without the need for planning permissions, though this is not applicable to land within National Parks and Word Heritage Sites.

Another initiative to encourage the building of new homes is that agricultural buildings of up to 450 square metres will be able to be converted to up to three homes without the need to apply for change of use.  However, this does not apply to National Parks or Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, which will provide some comfort for those campaigning to protect our ‘green and pleasant land.’

For some, these reforms just seem to be a load of hot air.  One councillor present at a planning committee meeting PLMR spoke at yesterday commented that the government has simply turned 50 pages of planning guidance into 1,000 pages of verbiage.  This would be ironic, given that the government touted its reduction of 1,000 pages of planning guidance to less than 50 when the NPPF was first launched.

Whether or not local councillors appreciate these reforms, tighter planning guidelines around flood-risk areas and protection for the Green Belt will certainly be welcomed by many.  The government has done its work for now, the rest lies with developers, local authorities and communities to deliver the much needed housing and infrastructure the UK needs.

Picture of papers for planning log on Department for Communities and Local Government update
Photo: Joel Penner

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