Planning Policy 2016

nick-large-200x300Chelgate’s Nick Wood-Dow chaired a Westminster Briefing seminar “Planning Policy in 2016” in Manchester on 21 January. It was attended by 35 planning professionals from the public and private sector, including planning directors of local authorities and several Councillors.

Permission in principle

The morning session looked at the Housing Bill, currently going through Parliament, the main objective of which is to put into law the Government’s manifesto commitment for 200,000 starter homes to be built by 2020.

CLG consequently realised that there is not enough brownfield land in England to accommodate 200,000 starter homes. Mike Kiely, chair of the Planning Officers’ Society, described the new planning term called “Permission in Principle”. Local authorities will have a duty to create an official register of brownfield land, and it is expected that councils will be able to turn their SHLAA into a brownfield register, so that a planning application submitted for homes on land included in the register would qualify for “permission in principle”. Council officers present felt that would reduce their ability to decide which development could go where in their area.

Designated persons

Mike then described the term “designated persons”. The Secretary of State can designate pilot areas for the new elements of the Bill, and a planning applicant will be able to choose a ‘designated person’ to receive and guide their application. The aim here is to introduce competition into planning, but the devil will be in the detail and there may well be amendments tabled as the Bill takes its course through Parliament. The Bill should complete all its stages by the Spring.

Minimum room sizes

Mark Crosby, policy adviser at RIBA, focussed attention on a single amendment to the Bill, which had been promoted by RIBA. After Clause 106, this amendment presses for minimum space standards for new homes. He said research into the size of rooms being built by the top ten housebuilders had shown that more than 50 per cent of rooms in newly built homes were too small for the average family to live in comfortably, often missing four square metres in a standard three bed home. He said this new space standard should be embedded into building regulations. Some housebuilders may object as this clause would affect profitability, but RIBA felt it would raise standards of health and comfort for families in future.

Planning cuts

Joe Kilroy, policy officer for the Royal Town Planning Institute, said that in 2015 there had been 250,000 planning approvals yet only 100,000 housebuilding starts. Planning departments in councils had suffered disproportionate cuts compared with other services, and some councils had cuts of up to 55 per cent in their planning budgets. Planning is so often viewed locally as being a function rather than an important strategic vision. He was most concerned about the removal of planning restrictions, and added that 11,000 council homes had been sold to tenants in 2015 but only 1000 had been built to replace them, creating an imbalance in supply. A CPRE report in 2015 had identified enough brownfield land for 1.3 million homes in England, which could certainly help with targets.


Ian McLeod, head of planning (east) at Birmingham City Council, updated delegates on the amount of new development which was transforming his city. They had a target of 51,000 dwellings and were working with the Local Enterprise Partnership alongside other local authorities to deliver these. There would, however, be an impact on Green Belt as most of the brownfield land had been exhausted. He said preparing their Local Plan had included reducing the number of consultations required, reducing the burden of evidence required and a sustainability appraisal. Ministers can mislead audiences by saying Green Belt land is sacrosanct, as it cannot be.


Mike Pocock, partner for planning and the environment at law firm Pinsent Masons in Manchester, provided a detailed presentation called “Getting the Viability Test right”. He told a story of seeing five different valuations of the same site. He pointed out that Paragraph 173 of the NPPF mentions competitive returns, and there had been a report from CLG in 2013 which had advised on valuations of affordable housing. Disclosure requests using FOI had produced grounds for challenges to viability, and there was a consultation out at present on the subject of Community Infrastructure Levy and viability, to which he urged delegates to respond.

Professor Simin Davoudi gave delegates a history of town planning, and demonstrated how often governments had interfered with planning policy since the 1960s, not always to the benefit of communities. She concluded that it was wrong to think about planning only in terms of speed of decision-making as opposed to the quality of decision-making. It was important to get it right, even if the process took longer. The delegates appreciated this light-hearted look at planning to end the seminar.

Westminster Briefing: Housing and Planning: February 18, 2016: London

Chelgate deputy chairman, Nick Wood-Dow, chaired the Westminster Briefing on Planning Policy 2016 in Manchester on January 21. He is also chairing Transforming Generation Rent into Generation Buy: The Housing & Planning Bill, Starter Homes & Affordable Housing on Thursday, February 18th, 2016, in London. Click here for further information.