The planning system in England has been more-or-less the same for the last 70 years, while our society and economy have both changed quite considerably. So it’s perhaps not surprising that the government has just announced its intention to give planning an overhaul.
Boris Johnson has revealed some specific changes that the government wants to introduce as soon as possible. These proposals are intended to (a) make it ‘easier to build better homes where people want to live’ and (b) support revival of the high street. And many would say that this kind of support is very much needed, having seen the way that retail and hospitality have suffered over the many months of lockdown.
As it stands, if someone wants to change the way buildings are used – e.g. turn an office into residential flats – they typically need planning permission. This is so that local councils can make sure each area has the right mix of commercial and residential premises.
Under the planned new rules, it will be easier to change the use of both buildings and land. This is intended to speed up the process of regeneration in towns and cities, tackle the issue of redundant buildings and kick-start the construction industry. It may also encourage more investors to buy different types of vacant properties and repurpose them.
So, what are the main changes being proposed?
- The Use Classes Order will be reformed so that certain changes of use will no longer require planning or local authority approval, e.g. a retail shop could be turned into a café. Meanwhile, things like libraries and village shops will be protected
- Certain commercial buildings can be changed to residential use without the need for planning permission
- Builders may be able to demolish vacant and redundant buildings and rebuild them without needing to apply for normal planning permission, as long as they build residential homes
- Property owners could be able to make use of a fast-track approval process if they want to extend upwards, to a maximum of two extra storeys - subject to consultation with neighbours
Builders will still need to comply with building regulations and meet high standards of accommodation, it’s simply the ‘red tape’ that’s being removed in certain circumstances.
The Prime Minister also announced a package of financial aid measures to support home building across England:
- A £12 billion affordable homes programme that will provide up to 180,000 new homes for sale and rent over the next eight years
- Included in the above, a pilot scheme of 1,500 so-called ‘First Homes’, which will be sold to first-time buyers at a 30% discount. The plan is to keep this discount in place permanently, so that the properties will remain affordable for future generations
- The allocation of £400m from the Brownfield Land Fund to support around 24,000 homes, primarily in the North of England
- A £450m boost to the Home Building Fund, helping smaller developers access finance for new housing
Will any of these proposed changes impact on letting?
When an area benefits from investment in infrastructure and property development, from an existing landlord and investor perspective, this does tend to be positive as it can help increase the population, driving demand for homes up and in turn this can help boost property prices.
From a landlord perspective, you may feel the government doesn’t always make life very easy at the moment, but if you are considering creating new homes through conversions for example, the planned changes may well help to make more local opportunities viable.
All the proposals still have to complete the consultation stage before going through parliament, and the consultation closed on 01 October 2020. Further details can be found on the GOV.UK website.