On the 11th of May, the Queen delivered her speech at a scaled-down ceremony in the Lords Chamber, which included the long-awaited planning bill that will be reforming the building and planning laws in the UK.
Providing the biggest overhaul to the UK’s planning laws in an entire generation, the purpose of the bill is to speed up the planning process and give a helping hand to the UK economy in a post-pandemic world. The most notable proposition on the bill is a traffic light system that will work by dividing land into three categories - growth, protection and renewal.
Land listed under the growth category will be considered as the areas that need the most substantial development and will therefore have permission automatically granted. These areas will include new settlements, urban extension sites and areas for redevelopment and regeneration. It will also include developments such as schools and hospitals. Land that is listed under renewal will already be deemed suitable for development and will be intended for existing built areas where smaller-scale developments are needed. The one category that will face more rigorous planning controls will be protected areas which will include greenbelt land and conservation areas.
Other elements of the bill will include a move from a document-based planning system to a digital one which will aim to streamline the process and boost engagement with local consultations - currently, government data suggests that only 3% of local people respond to planning applications.
The bill will also introduce design standards that will provide better quality homes that blend in with the local surroundings. The current regimes of Section 106 and Community Infrastructure Levy payments will be scrapped and replaced with a new ‘Infrastructure Levy’ which will be charged according to the final development value of the project and will be paid once the development is occupied.
It all sounds quite promising, and it cannot be denied that it is very much needed, considering we are in a time where the country is experiencing a chronic housing shortage, but what kind of impact will it have on the UK’s property market as a whole?
First and foremost, if the government are able to deliver everything that has been proposed in the bill, it will address the severe supply and demand imbalance throughout the country, which has only been intensified by the events of the last 12 months. Right now, it takes an average of five years to get a standard housing development through the system and this is making the government’s target of delivering 300,000 new homes a year a lot less attainable. Cutting down on the stringent planning procedures will make it a lot easier to bring much-needed stock to the housing market.
Taking away planning hurdles in areas that require growth and regeneration will also boost the economy in these areas and create new jobs for the local communities - not only while the construction is taking place but once the projects are completed as well.
While this all looks very positive in theory, there is a sense of ‘we’ve heard it all before’ amongst property industry insiders and they could be forgiven for feeling that way, as the government’s past promises to deliver more homes have often failed to materialise.
Kate Davies, the executive director of the Intermediary Mortgage Lenders Association (IMLA) said: “The announcement of a new planning bill aimed at helping to better designate land for development should be a positive step in the right direction towards building more homes in the UK, but we’ve had so many steps and promises in the past — all of which have led to relatively little.
“There is a great opportunity for Boris Johnson’s government to be the first in nearly 20 years to make a real difference and deliver on its promises to address the current issues facing the housing market.
“The big challenge will lie in whether it can take a sufficiently long-term strategic view of what needs to be done and set in motion projects that will not be fully delivered until after the life of this parliament and these politicians.”
While there is some reason to feel a little sceptical, we need to remember that the pandemic has given the government a lot of motivation to deliver on these promises once and for all - the economy will need as much stimulation as it can after large segments of it was closed down for the best part of a year. Not to mention that the Stamp Duty holiday introduced last year caused a surge in demand in the market, which has put even more pressure on the housing stock.
Any steps to make the planning process smoother will surely have a positive impact on the UK housing market, so we’re looking forward to seeing if the government are able to deliver on their promises.