Planning reform: more YIMBY, less NIMBY? Or as you were?
You would have heard the term ‘NIMBY’ many times in the worlds of planning and development. In fact, with the housing crisis we’re in, the use of the term used to describe those opposed to development in their area has spread far beyond these worlds as we get to grips with high demand and low supply. Even shortly before she moved portfolios in the recent Shadow Cabinet reshuffle, Lisa Nandy wasn’t afraid to adopt the term to attack her counterpart’s record on housebuilding.
Housing, and the short supply of it, is set to be one of the most pressing issues of debate at the next general election. Planning reform is going to form a huge part of this.
Just last week, PwC issued their Construction and Housebuilding Outlook where it found the housebuilding rate to have fallen by a fifth from last year. A difficult economic climate combined with convoluted planning rules is exacerbating an already troubling situation in the housing market.
YIMBYs (“yes in my back yard”) have had some good news to digest in recent months. The government have been talking more loudly about housing, and have been open to loosening up some of the rules around the planning system to give development a bit of a boost. But how meaningful is all of it?
What the Government are doing
In August, the government announced that they intended to scrap rules around ‘nutrient neutrality’, which is essentially a requirement for developers to prove that their schemes will not add to nutrient burdens in waterways. Some house builders have claimed that the rules cause lengthy delays to the determination of their proposals by local authorities.
The announcement wasn’t without controversy, with critics saying that the government had rolled back on their commitments to protect the environment – the government countered the claims, adding that 100,000 more homes would be built as a result.
However, the proposals to “boost housebuilding with necessary and proportionate” loosening up of this particular rule was voted down in the House of Lords last week. The amendment had been tagged to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, currently going through Parliament.
In July, Michael Gove delivered a speech which set out the government’s ‘Long term plan for housing’. The Levelling Up Secretary hailed the plan as a “new era of regeneration, inner-city densification and housing delivery across England”.
The plan is very much focused on the densification of already-built up areas, particularly in inner cities, which avoids building on green belt land. This involves regenerating brownfield sites, repurposing under-utilised buildings, and making it easier to convert commercial units into homes. The plan would also include additional funds to scale up capacity in local authority planning departments, which the government says will boost approval rates. It’s a targeted approach as opposed to a more wide-ranging reform of the planning system that many in the housebuilding sector are increasingly pushing for.
It’s a welcome change of tone and pace, that is hopefully a sign of a more ambitious policy platform to come, that gets to the root of the issues around housebuilding and wider development.
Gove ends the “NIMBY veto” on new wind farms
In other news around development, the government announced last week that the ban on building onshore windfarms in England will be lifted, and can no longer be blocked by a single objection. This has come to be known as the “NIMBY veto”.
This is welcome news for the renewables sector, and for the UK’s wider growth and net zero goals. The UK is increasingly reliant on wind power – a story from earlier this year highlighted our achievement in generating more electricity from wind than gas, for the very first time.
Under new rules, local authorities will be required to consider the views of the wider community in windfarm development, rather than a single objection preventing the construction of any turbines.
Communities can significantly benefit from the construction of new windfarms in their area through community funds and, in some cases, direct cost reductions to their bills. This is one of many positive aspects of windfarms picked up through our own engagement with communities on behalf of renewables clients.
With the loosening up of this planning rule, will we see more before the year is out? That remains to be seen. In response to the announcement, some climate groups, and the Shadow Energy Secretary Ed Miliband, said the changes still don’t go far enough to boost our energy security and remove planning barriers.
Looking to party conference season
Party conferences are right around the corner, and could this year’s round could well be the last before the general election. With the recent Shadow Cabinet reshuffle and the government getting into campaign mode, leading figures from the two main parties are going to want to make a mark with new policy announcements.
The Conservative Conference is set to place in the first week of October (1st – 4th Oct), with Labour Conference to follow soon after (8th – 11th October). Eyes will very much be on the two main parties on what they plan to offer on housing policy, planning and development.
As Labour continue to maintain double-digit leads over the Conservatives in the opinion polls, this year’s annual conference has already made headlines as a record-breaker for expected attendance, exhibitors and funds generated for the party, with the business community getting increasingly interested in what they have to offer if they secure power.