Planning Reform Included in Queen’s Speech
The Queen’s Speech has underlined the importance of the property industry to the nation’s post-pandemic recovery, but has divided commentators in the process.
Building on Boris Johnson’s planning white paper from last summer, the Queen shared details of planning reforms designed to modernise the system and help the Government deliver on their promise of building 300,000 new homes a year by 2025.
By digitising a document-based planning system, it will be possible to build homes and infrastructure at a quicker rate, while allowing more transparent engagement for the public in the development of areas. At least, ironically, that’s how it appears on paper.
The Bill has attracted criticism, noting that by making it easier for developers to build on undeveloped land, the voice of local communities opposing large scale developments will be drowned out by the overwhelming noise of diggers. From a purely political standpoint, there is also some Conservative concern that building affordable housing on the commuter belt will attract young Labour voters to Tory constituencies, threatening their majorities.
With home ownership being key to the Conservative’s playbook, it is generally hoped that the easing of planning regulations will make it easier for developers to secure land in more affordable areas, thereby attracting more first time buyers.
The problem is, according to critics such as London Councils, that the reforms will make it “harder for councils to make sure the right sort of homes are built to the right standard in the right places, "thereby hindering affordable housing targets, rather than supporting them.
Other sceptics point towards David Cameron’s 2015unfulfilled pledge to build 200,000 starter homes or Teresa May’s vow to fix the housing market by building between 225,000 and 275,000 new homes each year. As Kate Davies, Executive Director of the Intermediary Mortgage Lenders Association, suggests, “most commentators could be forgiven for reacting to the latest government announcement by saying ’we've heard it all before.’
That being said, not all response has been critical, sceptical or dubious, with Russell Gardner, Head of Real Estate at EY UK and Ireland, noting that “significant deregulation as a catalyst for greater homeownership across the whole country […] will be welcomed by developers and homebuyers.” Given the previous false dawns of similar pledges, there is a desire to see action, rather than more impressive figures being touted before amounting to nothing. Mike Derbyshire, Head of Planning at Bidwells, declared: “While we’re pleased to see the Government re-commit to sweeping reforms of the planning system, accelerated measures that translate these proposals into much needed legislation will be vital. This isn’t the time for dither or delay.”
It appears to be widely acknowledged that many processes within the property industry need to be modernised but it is imperative that changes are made with the best interests of the homebuyer at heart.
Very few proposals to uproot existing systems or processes are likely to be met with universal acclaim; however, this Bill seems to have prompted a very strong response on both sides of the fence, despite details currently being limited. Although it is widely accepted that the Government need to deliver more homes, there needs to be reassurance that deregulation does not mean cutting corners or muting the input of local authorities and communities.
Less contentious reforms within the Queen’s Speech were the Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Bill, which will prevent developers charging excessive ground rent on new leasehold homes, and the Building Safety Bill, which will enact the recommendations made in the Hackitt review. These Bills will help ensure the fiscal and physical safety of homeowners. Given the amount of variables and stakeholders involved, it is understandable that the Planning Bill has attracted the most attention, and will no doubt continue to provoke strong reactions until further details are shared.