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Budget 2011: Chancellor announces ‘radical’ planning reforms

Chancellor George Osborne has revealed a raft of planning reforms aimed at removing what he claimed has been a ‘chronic obstacle’ to UK growth

Addressing the House of Commons today Osborne claimed councils now spend 13 per cent more on planning permissions than they did five years ago despite a 30 per cent fall in applications.

He said: ‘Cumbersome planning rules and bad regulation stand in the way of new jobs.

‘We are going to tackle what every government has identified as a chronic obstacle to economic growth in Britain, and no government has done anything about: the planning system.’

His reforms include:

  • Streamlining planning applications and creating a 12 month guarantee for processing all applications and appeals and establishing a fast track for major infrastructure projects
  • The launch of a consultation on proposals to make it easier to convert commercial premises to residential
  • Piloting new land auctions which would start with public sector land
  • Opening up more land for development by removing national targets, but also maintaining restrictions on greenbelt development
  • Reforming the planning regime by establishing a presumption in favour of sustainable development so that the default answer to development is ‘yes’

Karl Sharro, senior associate partner at PLP Architecture said the reforms would provide a ‘much-needed boost to the design and construction sectors’.

He added: ‘Allowing change of use without planning permission will inject dynamism into the sector and reduce the significant amount of red-tape that developers face today.

‘In the past, over–complicated planning laws have hindered much needed development, reducing the ability of the sector to contribute efficiently to economic growth.

‘Further reform in central London is still needed, given its particular importance and the additional burdens that the planning system have introduced over the last few years.’

James Berry, director of public institutional & transportation at Woods Bagot raised concern over the government’s  ‘worrying tendency to neglect design’.

He said: ‘It will be interesting to see how the Government’s vision of office to housing refurbishment will be implemented given the vast local authority budget cuts which has seen over 100,000 staff made redundant including many built environment experts and planning officers.’

Roger Tustain, director at Broadway Malyan, warned that reform of use classes rules was ‘potentially dangerous’ and could create ‘isolated communities’.

He said: ‘The proposals could lead to isolated communities with no access to transport, schools or other essential community facilities.

‘In addition, with the reduced public purse and no planning control, who is going to pay for the increased demand on facilities or the affordable housing requirements that are enforced by the planning system?

‘The proposals are knee jerk, like the majority of this Government’s strategy on planning.’

Luke Tozer of Pitman Tozer Architects added:[Osborne’s] His analysis of the cost to the economy of a dysfunctional and Byzantine planning system is spot on and accords with daily dealings with it. But at present the gap between the rhetoric from Whitehall and the experience on the ground is almost laughable.

‘A presumption in favour of development already exists in theory but neither the detailed policies nor the under resourced officers of planning departments can facilitate this in reality. Fine words, missing detail. Sounds like Localism all over again.’

Nevertheless,  Peter Krelle of house builder Spicerhaart land & new homes, described the class uses reform as  ‘exactly what the industry needs’.

He said: ‘Not only will it act as a catalyst to generating more housing for first time buyers, key workers and those on a limited budget, but it also gives commercial owners a convenient way to sell unwanted property, often in secondary, non high street locations, that are no longer viable for business use, but are ideal for residential.’

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