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Conservative plans to change the planning regime

In response to proposals by the Conservatives to change the UK planning regime with reforms including abolishing regional planning, removing Regional Spatial Strategies and reviewing the Local Development Frameworks, Stuart Andrews, planning partner at international law firm Eversheds comments:


Conservative plans to change the planning regime

"It is clear from soundings at the recent Conservative Party Conference that the objective is to introduce a system which is "bottom up" in approach with clear accountability and decision making by local people. This decentralisation of power is at the heart of Conservative policy making.

“This has been further reinforced by the debate at the Conference, where it was explained that a second Green Paper will be published by the end of this year to focus purely on planning and to provide the basis for legislation to be introduced within the first year of a Conservative Government. There is also now a clear commitment that regional planning will be abolished within the "first ten days of any Conservative Government" and reforms will follow to simplify the national policy framework. In the immediate aftermath of the death of regional planning, Bob Neil has indicated that the government wouldn't simply "put the shutters down" on development, but would retain provisional land supply figures identified from the defunct regional planning process. These interim arrangements are intended to maintain short term housing supply and to provide Councils with enough flexibility to move away from the major urban extensions and Green Belt releases identified in current regional policy.

“This approach presents a series of challenges because it will take time to introduce the new system and possibly even longer for local authorities and their electorate to come to terms with their new responsibility as the architects of their own built environment. The intention going forward appears to rely heavily upon incentives rather than penalties. In this context, the Conservative policy is firmly directed at Councils making their own determination as to the scale of housing delivery for their area and there is no apparent intention to issue guidance from central government. This means a strengthened role for district and county councils as policy makers, but also includes plans to allow local communities to grant themselves planning permission to meet their own aspirations. Grant Shapps has made it very clear that he wants to see more houses built than has been the case under the current Government and believes that the way to do this is to offer incentives to local councils and communities.

“There must, however, be some prospect that some local authorities under this regime will take a restrained approach. The only conceivable way for developer to realise their schemes under these circumstances would be through the assertive promotion of their sites through the plan making process or by speculative planning application. The latter would have to rely upon exhaustive evidence to demonstrate that the scheme is needed to meet an obvious shortfall in supply within the relevant area. This approach might still struggle in the absence of established housing figures and, more importantly, under a regime that suggest that the establishment of the level of local provision is the preserve of the local authority.

“This is obviously very similar to the way development was promoted in the late 80's and early 1990's under a previous Conservative government. This was the age of "planning by appeal" and it may, at least in the short term, be the future for the delivery of development under a Conservative government. The potential pain of dealing with the more recalcitrant local authority might be softened by the reintroduction of the 'presumption in favour of development', but this might prove a step too far for the moment."

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