Written statement to Parliament

Planning update

This written statement by Brandon Lewis provides an update on planning.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The Rt Hon Brandon Lewis MP

I would like to update hon. members on further technical measures that the coalition government is making to improve the planning system, helping deliver more homes and increase certainty for both applicants and local residents.

Reducing delays after planning permission is granted

The government is determined to tackle delays associated with section 106 negotiations and the use and discharge of planning conditions, which can lead to delays in development being built on the ground after planning permission is granted.

To speed up Section 106, we will address this in the short term through amending planning guidance by confirming that section 106 negotiations should be dealt within statutory timescales; set expectations of early engagement about the scope of section 106 agreements at the preapplication stage by all parties; encourage greater use of standardised clauses and set expectations for greater transparency about the raising and spending of section 106 funds.

We are also currently consulting on whether legislative changes to section 106 will be required to streamline the process during the next parliament.

On planning conditions, we are publishing today the government’s response to the consultation on a range of proposals to improve the use and discharge of planning conditions.

Scaling back gold-plating of EU directives

The Environmental Impact Assessment regime stems from an EU directive, on top of the checks and balances in England’s planning system. The procedures go beyond those normally required for a planning application. This increases the workload of developers, local planning authorities and the consultation bodies, adding cost and creating delays. There is currently confusion about when they are required, leading to gold-plating of the directive by local authorities and developers.

We will shortly be laying regulations which will significantly reduce the number of housing schemes and proposals for other urban development which are not likely to have significant effects on the environment but which currently have to be screened by local planning authorities.

This will remove unnecessary gold-plating, reduce costs and provide more certainty for all interested parties.

Cancelling redundant policy from the last administration

The coalition government has sought to abolish top-down planning and streamline Whitehall planning rules.

As ministers explained on 24 January 2014, Official Report, Column 15WS, in 2010, the coalition government cancelled the last government’s top-down eco-towns programme, as part of our commitment to localism and to supporting locally-led development.

Despite a pledge of 10 new towns by the last government, the eco-towns programme built nothing but resentment. The initiative was a total shambles, with developers abandoning the process, application for judicial review, the timetable being extended over and over, and local opposition growing to the then government’s unsustainable and environmentally damaging proposals.

The eco-town planning policy has remained on the books, as its planned repeal has necessitated us considering whether a Strategic Environmental Assessment is required (as a consequence of yet another EU Directive).

A screening assessment, carried out by independent consultants, has concluded that cancellation of the eco-towns planning policy statement is unlikely, by itself, to have significant environmental effects, and so a full Strategic Environmental Assessment is not required.

We are consequently cancelling ‘Planning Policy Statement: Eco-towns: A supplement to Planning Policy Statement 1’ from July 2009. We are saving the policies for north-west Bicester until Cherwell District Council has an up-to-date Local Plan in place, which is currently under examination.

Updating planning guidance

As part of roll-out of the new streamlined planning guidance online resource, we are updating planning guidance on a number of issues.

We will shortly be updating planning guidance in relation to, aerodromes and the change of use of agricultural buildings into homes. We will also be publishing planning guidance to support the new planning policy on sustainable drainage systems.

Updated household projections were published on 27 February which will provide an up to date basis for local authorities to determine their housing need. The new household projections cover the period 2012 to 2037 for England and local authorities; they update the previous ‘2011-based Interim Household Projections’, and have taken account of the latest Office for National Statistics 2012-based sub-national population projections.

Planning guidance has been updated to make clear that the new projections are the most up-to-date and should now be used to take forward plan making.

Streamlining consenting requirements for national infrastructure

We are today publishing the formal government response to the consultation on streamlining consenting requirements for nationally significant infrastructure projects.

Businesses applying for a Development Consent Order will be able to benefit from a more streamlined process to obtaining consents.

Businesses using this streamlined approach will benefit from more certainty over their application process and a simplified regime for obtaining development consent.

Supporting the potential for shale gas extraction

The government is taking steps to ensure that we lead the way with robust and efficient regulation of shale oil and gas. Shale gas has the potential to increase our energy security, create thousands of jobs and reduce carbon emissions. This nascent industry presents new challenges for mineral planning authorities in how they consider and determine planning applications for shale exploration.

This is why, as part of the £5 million pound support package announced in the Autumn Statement in December, we have decided to make £1.2 million available in 2015 to 2016 to support local authorities to assist with the administration of shale planning applications, ensuring they can be handled, with due process and a fair hearing in an efficient and timely manner. A prospectus inviting bids for funding to boost local authorities’ capacity and capability to deal with these applications has been published today.

We are also today publishing for technical consultation a proposal to improve the process for potential petroleum exploration, including shale gas, through making a minor amendment to existing permitted development rights in relation to mineral exploration.

This change would grant permission for the drilling of boreholes for groundwater monitoring for petroleum exploration, enabling limited works to be carried out to establish baseline information on the groundwater environment in advance of, or in parallel to, any planning application or applications coming forward for such development.

For this activity, it would improve environmental monitoring and put petroleum exploration on the same footing as that capable of being carried out under existing permitted development rights for mineral exploration more generally. We consider that the amended right should, with the exception of an intended raising of the current height restriction of structures needed to carry out the development from 12 to 15 metres, be subject to the same restrictions and conditions that apply to the existing permitted development rights.

Promoting regeneration and new homes in London

On 20 February, as part of our long term economic plan for London, the government announced proposals to promote brownfield regeneration in London. This includes beginning discussions on powers for the Mayor over lines of sight and wharves. The announcement also contained proposals to take forward new Housing Zones and further free up public sector land.

We recently laid secondary legislation at the request of the mayor that will establish a Mayoral Development Corporation vested with local planning powers for Old Oak and Park Royal from next month. This will help enable the regeneration of the site which crosses local authority boundaries and to maximise the benefits of a High Speed 2 and Crossrail Station, in line with the mayor’s ambitions to create 24,000 homes and 55,000 jobs in the area.

These measures illustrate the practical steps we are taking to decentralise decision-making, cut unnecessary bureaucracy, and help increase house building and economic growth.

Published 5 March 2015