Of all the areas likely to be impacted by the forthcoming planning reforms, strategic housing sites stand to change the most.
While focus may fall to town centres and brownfield locations – and indeed earlier announcements make it easier for these areas to adapt to market changes – this won’t be enough to deliver the numbers or range of homes we need.
This is particularly true in a post-Covid world where more people – where they can – want outdoor space, and city centre proximity matters less as more people work from home.
The government has been clear too – for now – that the Green Belt remains protected, despite the greatest need for housing coming from London and the South East.
Greenfield development and freeing up more sites to meet a broader spectrum of demand must be central to the next stage of planning reform, therefore.
Proposals to zone land for growth, regeneration or protection and the focus on housing delivery appear positive. Front loading and giving Local Plans more prominence is welcome too, even if the time taken to agree each plan might increase to allow for more consultation and discussion.
This is just the start of a very long journey, however. If these reforms come out the other end of the legislative process in the form we have seen so far, then it will indeed be a positive move for the development community looking to bring forward more sites.
But for this to work we will be looking for three things:
- Better funded local authorities to manage the changes through effectively – more speed and certainty is essential.
- A requirement for local authorities to plan adequately to meet their housing need and better enforcement for any who don’t – a return to more quasi-regional planning with broader strategic targets and an ability to direct under a more centralised system would help enable this requirement.
- More infrastructure investment, from transport to broadband – developers may be funding more local infrastructure but the bigger projects that keep the country connected also need to keep pace.
For all the changes still ahead, local authorities will still need to take decisions on the schemes coming before them. Immediate housing need isn’t going to fall away and local authorities still need to work to meet housing delivery tests and five year supply, which in turn bring into play the presumption in favour of sustainable development where such requirements are not met. This all creates short term opportunities, and it would be counterproductive for the pace of delivery to slow as this wider restructuring takes place.