A new Secretary of State, Greg Clark, has been appointed to the UK’s Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG). A strong advocate of localism, Clark was Minister of State for Decentralisation from 2010 until September 2012, in which role he was largely responsible for the National Planning Policy Framework published in March 2012.
If the new Conservative Government lives up to its election manifesto promises, these are some of the key policies on Mr Clark’s To-do list:
Devolution of planning powers
The Queen’s Speech is expected to include a Cities Devolution Bill which will deliver Greater Manchester's first mayor, with powers including planning, housing and transport. In an announcement on 14 May 2015, the Chancellor, George Osborne, encouraged other big cities to follow Manchester’s example by bidding for devolved powers.
The housing shortage remains top priority, with Conservative manifesto pledges that mirror the previous Coalition Government policies, including the following:
- Local authorities are to have a register of brownfield (previously developed) land available for development and will be required to ensure that 90% of "suitable" brownfield sites have planning permission for housing by 2020. The manifesto also promises to fund the Housing Zones that were introduced under the last Government to build 95,000 new homes on brownfield sites.
- Promises of:
- 200,000 new Starter Homes, to be sold at 20% below market price to first-time buyers aged under 40;
- 275,000 additional affordable homes by 2020;
- 10,000 new homes to rent at below market rent, for people saving for a deposit.
- Help to Buy will be extended to cover another 120,000 homes; the Help to Buy mortgage guarantee will continue until 2017; and the Help to Buy equity loan scheme will continue until "at least" 2020. In addition, a new Help to Buy ISA will be introduced.
We will be watching out for any further extension of office to residential development rights.
Opening up the market for publicly held assets
The Conservative manifesto confirmed the creation of a London Land Commission tasked with producing a comprehensive database of publicly owned brownfield land in the capital. This body has already been promised £1 million of funding in the 2015 budget.
Local authorities will be expected to manage their assets "more efficiently" and sell their most expensive properties as they fall vacant, in order to fund new homes to replace properties sold to housing association tenants under an extended Right to Buy scheme.
Human rights reform
One pledge in the Conservative manifesto promises a significant departure from the status quo: the repeal of the Human Rights Act 1998 and replacement of the European Convention on Human Rights with a British Bill of Rights. Changes to judicial review procedure enacted by the Coalition Government have already tightened the procedure for challenging planning decisions in the courts. Repealing the Human Rights Act could, in the longer term, affect the courts’ approach to planning, compulsory purchase and public law claims generally. In planning and environmental matters, however, the Government is likely to find that the protections of the European Convention on Human Rights are echoed in the Aarhus Convention, to which the UK will still be a party.
Protecting the environment and empowering communities
Manifesto pledges that are thin on detail include:
- Existing protections of the Green Belt will continue and brownfield development is to be encouraged.
- A promise to “support locally-led garden cities” such as Ebbsfleet and Bicester in cases “where communities want them”. Local authorities will bear most of the burden of bringing plans for garden cities to fruition.
- When planning permission is granted for new homes, a promise to ensure that "local communities know up-front that necessary infrastructure such as schools and roads will be provided".
- Encouraging Business Improvement Districts and "other forms of business-led collaboration on high streets".
- £300 million to be allocated to reducing light pollution from new roads, creating more tunnels, building better noise barriers and restoring lost habitats. New roads and railways will be built in a way that mitigates their environmental impacts.