Mishcon de Reya page structure
Site header
Main menu
Main content section
abstract pattern

The first 100 days of a Labour Government: Planning Reform Proposals

Posted on 9 July 2024

Commenting on the Chancellor’s proposals for planning reform, Daniel Farrand, Of Counsel in the Planning and Environment Group at Mishcon de Reya, said: 

The Chancellor has marked out planning reform as one of the areas which the new government is counting on for delivering the new growth they need to generate the revenue to meet their spending aspirations. The fact that the announcement was a Treasury one rather than from Angela Rayner's department (although she was name-checked in Rachel Reeve's speech several times) shows just how much Labour are investing in this as an economic and growth issue, not just a housing one. 

Six steps were announced. These were not unexpected in general terms for anyone who had read the manifesto but a few specifics were interesting. 

Step 1 

Revise the National Planning Policy Framework. The Chancellor said that the Deputy Prime Minister will consult on a new growth-focused approach which implies that this step goes beyond a mere reversing of the most recent changes. Many thought that this work may be done in two stages, a quick reversal possibly without consultation to show immediate action and a wider public review afterwards. That said, the ban on onshore wind has been removed with immediate effect through a ministerial policy statement disapplying two footnotes in the NPPF. That statement will be followed by a formal confirmation in Parliament after the state opening and formal revision of the NPPF when it is updated. 

The big (but, by now, boring) headline of reinstating housing targets falls in this first step. 

Step 2 

Prioritising energy application in the system and widening spatial plan for energy to include other infrastructure. It remains unclear if this is a matter of internal government resource priorities or whether formal process changes will be forthcoming in subsequent weeks.  

Step 3 

A taskforce to combat stalled sites. This is initially targeting 14,000 homes in Liverpool Central Docks, Worcester Parkway, Northstowe and Langley Sutton Coldfield but is expected to roll out further. It is again unclear the extent of any taskforce's powers. Will this be extra scrutiny and bashing heads together in the hope of breaking deadlocks? Or will there be funding available, policy changes or even decision-making powers attached? 

Step 4 

300 additional planning officers. This announcement is likely to be welcomed by everyone, though some may wonder where these officers are coming from. If, in reality, we have to recruit and train new graduates, it will be some years before the benefits of this proposal are felt. 

Step 5 

Greater intervention. The Deputy Prime Minister is going to be extremely busy, not just with call in and recovered appeals but setting out expectations for London’s and other mayors, and the Office for Investment and local authorities too. Indeed, in the spirit of showing that she is hitting the ground running, the Deputy Prime Minister has already recovered two data centre appeals from the Planning Inspectorate for her own decisions. Those of us who have experienced recovered appeals know that, far from showing swift action, recovery of appeals normally creates significant delay as the Inspector still writes their report but then it has to be considered again in Whitehall. Nonetheless, recovery does allow ministers to have the final say and give strong indications to the planning world as to how they expect decisions to be made. 

The letter to be sent to councils will make clear the Government's focus on full local plan coverage (which will raise a wry smile in York which still does not have a full local plan after over 70 years of the plan-led system), review of green belt boundaries, and priority of brownfield and grey belt land for housing.  

Step 6 

Reform of the system to focus on infrastructure as well as housing including policy for critical infrastructure ahead of formal revisions to the National Policy Statements within the year.  

Overall 

We commented yesterday here on the rise in housebuilder stock prices on Friday and that this was likely based on an expectation of mandatory targets and a more interventionalist approach. That optimism from investors is unlikely to have been dampened today.  

There is no hiding the fact that the Deputy Prime Minister and the Treasury are prepared to upset a few people to ensure that planning is seen as a means for growth rather than a barrier to it. That means pushing councils to meet the housing targets, recovering or calling in decisions and tipping the policy balance in favour of growth. Journalists challenged the Chancellor on whether this was an attack on NIMBYs. Though she denied it, emphasising that objectors will have the same rights they have always had, many will see it as stacking the deck against them. With a majority of the kind we saw returned to Parliament last week, Labour can afford to be more ambitious and risk a few upsets people along the way, even in their own party. 

Those with longer memories might have some concerns about Treasury involvement. After all, the Community Infrastructure Levy was a Treasury-led intervention in planning and took more than a few goes to get right. 

How can we help you?
Help

How can we help you?

Subscribe: I'd like to keep in touch

If your enquiry is urgent please call +44 20 3321 7000

Crisis Hotline

I'm a client

I'm looking for advice

Something else