The Coalition is preparing to mount a fresh assault on planning laws by giving developers the power to push though applications without the need for council approval or environmental assessments.
In a move described by planning experts as a “nuclear option”, developers will be allowed to ignore local authorities if they delay decisions on conditions attached to planning applications.
The Coalition is also planning to remove the need for developers to assess the impact of some large housing estates, shopping centres and industrial estates on the countryside.
Campaigners on Monday night warned that the reforms could see local communities “held to ransom” by developers and force councils to “wave through” unpopular planning applications.
Details of the new reforms emerged after a senior adviser to the Prime Minister said that the “physical harm” being inflicted on the countryside by the Coalition’s planning reforms could become “the defining legacy of this government”
However Nick Boles, the planning minister, is planning a new wave of reforms which will open the way for even more development than April.
Mr Boles said that the reforms will “significantly cut the burdens of unnecessary planning applications” and “save the industry precious time and money”.
He said: “[The Department] is bringing in reforms which will significantly cut the burdens of unnecessary planning applications, help local authorities and developers reduced the administration involved in Environmental Impact Assessment cases, and simplify the listed building consent system.
“These policies will save industry precious time and money, allowing businesses to move forward productively without the constraints of heavy handed and unnecessary regulation.”
The Coalition will unveil a package of measures in April to help meet its target of building hundreds of thousands of new homes to help stimulate the economy.
One of the most significant measures gives developers new powers to ignore councils and push ahead with new housing.
When councils grant planning permission, they usually do so with conditions attached such as building flood defences, planting trees or landscaping.
However, housebuilders claim that councils are delaying tens of thousands of new homes by failing sign off the conditions.
The new legislation will mean that planning applications will be automatically approved if councils “fail to discharge a condition in time”.
Richard Blyth, the head of policy at the Royal Town and Planning Institute, said that the policy will mean developers “can hold everybody to ransom”.
He said: “We are concerned it is a very blunt instrument. Local councillors work hard to reflect public opinion in developments, and if it later turns out that a lot of these conditions have not been met residents might feel let down. It is a nuclear option.”
Councillor Mike Jones, the chairman of the local government association’s housing board, said the conditions are “vital” and help “protect communities” from unwanted developments.
However Steve Turner, a spokesman for the Home Builders Federation, said: “Tens of thousands of approved homes are being delayed by bureaucracy in the planning system – the very homes that many accuse developers of hoarding in a ‘land bank’ . The move will ensure that homes with planning permissions are not being prevented from being built by Local Authority delays.”
The second new measure will reduce the need for environmental assessments to assess of the impact of large scale developments on the countryside
At present developers have to consider carrying out an “environmental impact assessment” when a development such as a new housing estate, shopping centre or cinema covers more than an acre of land.
Under the assessments, officials take into account the impact a development will have on the landscape, animals, flora and fauna and suggest potential measures to mitigate damage to the environment.
However, the proposed legislation would raise the threshold to a significantly higher level than an acre, exempting thousands of developments from the need to have an environmental assessment.
A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: “We are concerned that too many unreasonable conditions are imposed, which can be up to a hundred different requirements.
“In turn, these can then prevent construction works starting on sites and houses being built, sometimes adding years to the planning process.”
Related Telegraph Articles
- Build homes or lose planning permissions, Nick Boles tells developers 08 Nov 2013
- Coalition’s legacy could be ‘harm to countryside’, No 10 adviser warns 08 Jan 2014
House of Commons Library.
Planning Reform Proposals
Standard Note: SN/SC/6418
Last updated: 14 January 2014
Author: Louise Smith
Section Science and Environment Section
In a story in the Telegraph on 13 January 2014 it was reported that the Government was “planning to remove the need for developers to assess the impact of some large housing estates, shopping centres and industrial estates on the countryside.”
In response to this story the Government said:
Environmental impact assessments stem from European Union law and impose significant costs on the planning system, over and above long-standing, domestic environmental safeguards. It has become apparent that some local planning authorities require detailed assessment of all environmental issues irrespective of whether EU directives actually require it; similarly, some developers do more than is actually necessary to avoid the possibility of more costly legal challenges, which adds delays and cost to the application process.
The Directive is enacted into UK law through the Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2011 (SI 2011/194), which set the thresholds for when a development project will require an environmental impact assessment. The Chancellor’s Autumn Statement on 5 December 2012 said that the Government would consult on updated guidance on conducting environmental impact assessments by Budget 2013, and would consult on raising screening thresholds set out in the Regulations later in 2013.18 In his 6 December written statement, Eric Pickles set out the Consultation on updated guidance would aim to give greater certainty about when an environmental impact assessment would and would not be required:
“It has become apparent that some local planning authorities require detailed assessment of all environmental issues irrespective of whether EU directives actually require it; similarly, some developers do more than is actually necessary to avoid the possibility of more costly legal challenges which add delays and cost to the application process. Consequently, my Department will be consulting in 2013 on the application of thresholds for development going through the planning system in England, below which the environmental impact assessment regime does not apply. This will aim to remove unnecessary provisions from our regulations, and to help provide greater clarity and certainty on what EU law does and does not require.” Eric Pickles 6.12.2013