BNP Paribas Real Estate planning expert David Phillips comments on yet further changes to England’s Planning System
Following last week’s Budget, the government published Planning for the Future, which is proposing a raft of yet further changes to the planning system, alongside details on what will be included in the forthcoming planning White Paper, due to be published later in 2020.
I believe that overall the real estate sector should support the proposed reforms although there is sure to be continued frustration with the government’s failure to grapple the Green Belt issue that was not addressed. Even amongst some authorities that are supportive of Green Belt there is the acceptance that the “rules” for Green Belt release need to be relaxed.
Although I continue to support a ‘brownfield first approach’ the time has long since come where there is simply not enough land being released to build the homes we need. “Squeezing the pips” to maximise development of urban land is all very well and good but relaxing regulation by allowing upward extension and redevelopment of land without having proper control is counter intuitive to the government’s objective of good design being enshrined in the planning system. One only needs to look at the conversion of offices to residential through permitted development rights to see how this approach simply does not work.
That said the government committing itself to support the high street can only be a good thing and I’m very supportive of encouraging higher density residential development into our town centres particularly in tandem with complementary entertainment uses as well as allowing for greater flexibility around amenity and service provision in town centres.
Whilst the government has not been specific on building the homes people need I very much hope that the proposed White Paper will set out clear measures to support retirement living and co-living, which I see as being very important contributors to the housing market. Current planning policies simply make it very difficult for providers of alternative housing to compete with more traditional forms of housing supply. Government must recognise that planning policies need to be applied more flexibly to reduce the financial burden on providers of such alternative accommodation. Supporting the delivery of more inter-generational living I believe could be part of the solution to many issues we face in society today such as the affordability issue for the younger generation and the problem with many elderly feeling lonely and isolated from the rest of the community.
Other key factors to keep in mind is the necessity to move to more sustainable greener homes to meet the Government’s net zero target. There must be much greater focus on Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) going forward to achieve this. Here garden villages have a major part to play in achieving healthy well designed affordable places to live.
I’m sceptical that all local authorities will have adopted plans in place by 2023. The government has threatened intervention before. It is frankly a very empty threat. There simply are not the resources in place for government to intervene. Local authorities already know this and local politics dictates that Green Belt constrained authorities will continue to see through government’s promised intervention and simply not play ball …. I hope I am wrong but I just cannot see this government suddenly sanctioning major development in the Green Belt by appeal.
David Phillips is a Chartered Town Planner and Director of BNP Paribas Real Estate