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Jeremy's Blog 2/7/2020: Planning for Recovery

03 July 2020

This article by Jeremy Moody first appeared in the CAAV e-Briefing of 2nd July 2020.

The interruption to public life and the economy created by the pandemic is now both a prompt and political cover for change in the planning system that would be more controversial in other circumstances.  The Government is beginning to set out its recovery programme, with measures to keep current development moving, to enable change and soon more detail as to how infrastructure and major change in planning will be driven. 

In a Bill taking just a day in the Commons, many English planning permissions that expiring this year are now to be extended to 1st April 2021.  Scotland has already provided for extensions.

Permitted development rights were introduced to stop the detailed planning control system created in 1947 from clogging up with minor applications (and make it more politically palatable).  In the teeth of suspicious planners, they have been much expanded – as by Class Q’s residential conversion of agricultural buildings and equivalent, more controversial rights for offices and other property. 

They are now being widened in England to allow:

  • much existing commercial property, including newly vacant shops but not pubs or village shops, to be changed to residential use
  • many types of retail premises to be converted to cafes or offices
  • the demolition of vacant and redundant residential and commercial buildings to be replaced with houses
  • more rights to add space above properties.

In aiding the re-use of existing sites for housing, these respond to this year’s acceleration of deep changes in property markets, especially for much retail and many high streets, encouraging much private investment as markets drive change that local political processes might find hard. 

The promised planning White Paper seems imminent with talk of a more fundamental move towards zoning for planning.  Measures might seek to drive land on to the market, develop more land value capture and perhaps pick up the Letwin report’s proposal for New Town type approaches to larger housing development.  Equally, the Environment Bill would require biodiversity net gain from development in England, while there may be more National Parks.   

Alongside planning, Project Speed is to accelerate the £640bn of infrastructure intended over the next five years with changes possibly more radical than the Prime Minister’s attack on “newt counting delays”.  A majority Government with four years to go and an economy to revive may have that rare moment to make changes that would otherwise not be possible.

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