In a speech delivered in Dudley on Tuesday 30th June 2020 from a lectern displaying the strapline ‘build, build, build’, Boris Johnson set out proposals for what he referred to as the most radical reforms to the planning system since World War 2. He highlighted the chronic failure of the British state decade after decade has been the failure to build enough homes, committing to build better, build greener but also build faster.

A Press Release from Number 10 outlines the main changes proposed, with a Planning Policy Paper promised in July to provide the details of the proposed comprehensive reforms to the planning system.

Proposals to invest in and accelerate infrastructure involve bringing forward some £5bn of capital investment projects including:

  • £100m for 29 projects this year to improve the road network;
  • funding of 50 projects for school rebuilding totalling some £1bn;
  • Some £900m to support local growth projects this year to enable local areas to invest in priority infrastructure projects to drive local growth and jobs;
  • accelerated investment in town centres to provide all 101 town deal towns with £500k-£1m to spend on projects.

An Infrastructure Delivery Task Force is proposed to cut down the time taken to develop, design and deliver infrastructure projects. A National Infrastructure Delivery Strategy is to be published in the Autumn to set a clear direction on key economic infrastructure.
The reforms to the planning system aim to make it easier to build better homes where people want to live.

There will be greater freedom for buildings and land in town centres to change use and create new homes from regenerating vacant and redundant buildings. Reforms to the Use Classes Order will allow more commercial premises to have total flexibility to be re-used – for example retail units being permanently used as a café or office without requiring planning permission. Existing commercial properties, including vacant shops will be able to be converted into housing more easily.

Changes planned to come into effect in September include builders not needing a normal planning application to demolish and rebuild vacant and redundant residential and commercial buildings if they are rebuilt as homes and the ability to build additional space above properties via a fast track approval. These changes are intended to support the high street revival by allowing empty properties to be repurposed, reducing the pressure to build on greenfields by making brownfield development easier.

The statement outlines a package of measures to support home building across England –

  • an 8 year, £12bn affordable homes programme to support up to 180,000 new affordable homes, including a pilot of ‘First Homes’ to be sold to first time buyers at 30% discount in perpetuity;
  • a £400m Brownfield Land Fund to support 24,000 homes in the West Midlands, Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire, Liverpool and Sheffield City Regions, North of Tyne and Tees Valley;
  • support for smaller developers through the Home Building Fund to deliver 7,200 new homes.

The statement is positive and encouraging in its support for building our way out of the economic crisis caused by COVID-19. We will have to await the details in the Planning Policy Paper in July to see what fundamental changes to the system are to be proposed and how they will address the acknowledged failure to deliver new homes.

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