Planning policy was a particular focus for the Chancellor’s ‘Budget for Growth', with a series of announcements designed to address long-standing complaints about the cost of applying for planning permission, and the time take to process applications.
However, two planning announcements in particular seem to raise as many questions as they answer.
The Budget statement abolished the national target for 60 percent development on brownfield sites, a sensible move on what has always been a blunt policy instrument. In theory, building on previously-developed land is a thrifty use of a limited resource; in practice, it pushed up land prices by restricting supply.
However, by simply abolishing the national target the Chancellor has taken only half a step towards solving the problem. The Growth Review announced that choice about development on brownfield will be ‘localised’, while greenbelt restrictions will be maintained. This neither addresses the effect on prices, nor takes the plunge and looks again at the status of the greenbelt, some of which is definitely more brown than green. As we proposed last year in our Arrested Development report, the Government needs to bite the bullet and review its position on greenbelt, to avoid restricting development unnecessarily.
The Chancellor also announced he would introduce a presumption that planning applications will be approved, unless they compromise ‘the key sustainable development principles’ in national planning policy. In the absence of the anticipated National Planning Policy Framework it is hard to judge the real meaning of this. However, it is clear that the sustainable development principles will have to be very carefully drafted in order to be effective, as they will be the only means of controlling what is built. It’s a big jump from national sustainable development principles to their successful implementation at local level.
These principles will also be the only way to ensure development is of sufficient quality. Increasing quantity is not enough on its own; quality has to be part of the success equation. Development must be fit for purpose to avoid short changing business: it needs to be connected into existing transport networks; to provide businesses with the facilities they need while being flexible enough to allow for future expansion. New housing should provide the type of accommodation the local market needs, and should promote quality of place in order to attract a workforce.
Put simply, development that doesn’t improve the place where it is built represents a poor investment and a missed opportunity. Effective sustainable development principles should therefore take quality into account, and the government needs to make sure this happens rather than sparking a ‘dash for trash’.