What does a Boris Johnson Government have in store for planning?

18 October 2019

"the ‘Accelerated Planning Green Paper’ is still anticipated to be published in November, which will confirm proposals to speed up the planning system"

With Boris’ Brexit negotiations going to the wire and the pageantry of the Queen’s Speech (or her crown at least…) hogging the headlines, little attention was given this week to what the Government’s proposed legislative programme means for planning and the built environment.

Key headlines included the promise of a National Infrastructure Strategy, a white paper on devolution, and an Environment Bill. The Government stated that the National Infrastructure Strategy “would offer a long-term vision to improve all areas of economic infrastructure”, including digital, transport, local growth, and infrastructure finance and delivery.

In terms of planning, as confirmed at the Conservative Party Conference a few weeks ago, the ‘Accelerated Planning Green Paper’ is still anticipated to be published in November, which will confirm proposals to speed up the planning system. Interestingly, this includes the potential for fees to be refunded if councils take too long to determine applications, designed to ensure that local authorities work at pace when deciding proposals. The Green Paper is also expected to set out “a new tiered planning system” (tantalising as it is, no further details have yet been released), further ambitions to reduce planning conditions, and measures to revitalise high streets. The Green Paper will also take forward proposals to allow upward extensions and demolition of old commercial buildings for new housing. These soundbites suggest some significant changes to the planning system, but only time will tell if the current Government is able to navigate these through parliament, or yet, whether the current Government will still be in place.

To coincide with the Queen’s Speech, Defra also published its much-anticipated Environment Bill, which will place biodiversity gain firmly at the door of developers. Some of the eye-catching policies include:

  • Developers must deliver 10% net biodiversity gain through their developments. A “biodiversity metric”, used to calculate the value of any habitat, is due to be published to support this.
  • Planning must produce “local nature recovery strategies”, identifying where compensatory provision of biodiversity can be delivered. This will result in each authority producing a local habitat map, with the Bill stating this “will put spatial planning for nature on a statutory footing”.
  • Developers will have to buy “biodiversity credits” if they cannot deliver biodiversity enhancements locally.
  • Developers will need to guarantee “net gain” for 30 years, with local planning authorities policing this.

A new public body, the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) is to replace the European Commission, once the UK has left the European Union.

On many occasions, Boris Johnson has called for Britain to get building again. However, only time will tell how many opportunities he has left to make this a reality.

Rob Scadding, Associate