In his Autumn Statement, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced a cash boost to clear planning backlogs and deliver new homes. It looks like good news for the UK planning sector…
Cash Injection for Planning
A recent announcement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt would, he said ‘’lead to many thousands of additional new dwellings’’.
Jeremy Hunt told the House of Commons on 22 November during the Autumn Statement that the government would allocate £32 million in a bid to help local authorities clear “planning backlogs” and enable the delivery of more new homes across the country.
The £32 million investment, one of a number of announced measures designed to boost economic growth, would also ‘’develop fantastic new housing quarters in Cambridge, London and Leeds”.
According to the Treasury, the £32 million would be made available across the 2023/4 and 2024/25 financial years.
Paul Smith of Apex Planning Consultants had this to say: “The proposals need to be appropriate and with the best will in the world, not all planning applications are well prepared, or the developments do not meet the requisite policy checks and balances. Additionally, housebuilders are faced with rising costs (eg materials, labour, finance etc) as well as skills shortages, therefore, delays building houses is a separate issue that also needs to be addressed.
“Additional funds will no doubt be helpful and a ‘Super Squad’ approach might help to identify efficient working practices and approaches that can help to speed up the determination of planning applications, but this does not automatically mean planning permissions will be granted, nor does it mean houses will be built speedily.”
The move follows the August launch of a £24-million Planning Skills Delivery Fund, which also aims to help councils clear planning application backlogs. The Fund is part of the government’s capacity and capability programme and includes the creation of a £13.5m ‘Super Squad’ of planning experts, which was announced in July.
According to a statement issued by the Department for Levelling-up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC), the ‘Super Squad’ would comprise “leading planners and other experts charged with working across the planning system to unblock major housing developments”, which the housing secretary likened to the superheroes of Marvel Comics Avengers Assemble in an interview in the Sunday Telegraph.
The team will allow developments to access the kind of talent that local authorities are unable to – and one of its first targets will be looking at boosting plans for the city of Cambridge.
It will then move on to looking at sites across England’s eight Investment Zones, in a bid to match high-quality homes with areas where high-quality jobs are being created.
It is intended that the teams, with experience in skills such as planning, urban design, legal expertise, ecology and viability, will help local authorities to make faster decisions and push forward plans on major, complex sites.
Paul commented: “Skills shortage is also a significant issue in the town planning sector. It is all well and good setting up the ‘Super Squad’ but how many applications can they address? In addition, it is presumed those making up the ‘Super Squad’ will be drawn from local planning authorities and/ or the private sector where there are already vacancies that cannot be filled.
“We have, for many years, referenced the diminishing numbers of new planners entering the profession via planning schools and the need to redress the balance. Those in local planning authorities are having to do more with less, and it is a similar situation in the private sector. Apex Planning Consultants has been lucky and is always able to satisfy client requirements with existing staff. However, if the national concerns are to be solved the government and the RTPI must find ways to make the profession more attractive and to attract people.”
Paul agreed that additional funds will be helpful and that a ‘Super Squad’ approach might help to identify efficient working practices and approaches that can help to speed up the determination of planning applications, but made the point that this does not automatically mean planning permissions will be granted, nor does it mean houses will be built speedily.
Reacting to the news, Mark Reynolds, Chief Executive, Mace, told Construction Enquirer: “This welcome funding for more planning experts will help to decrease waiting times for planning decisions – a major cause of uncertainty and delay in delivery across the construction sector – and a review of permitted development rights could help to unlock UK-wide growth through the opportunity for more work across the country for the repair, maintenance and improvement sector.”
In conclusion then, Paul stated: “The monies announced in the Autumn Statement are a drop in the ocean therefore it is hoped this will form just the first stage of bigger plans for reform of the profession and the sector. Meanwhile, Apex Planning Consultants will continue to serve its clients efficiently and to the best of its abilities. Indeed, 2023 has been a highly successful year, obtaining planning permission and listed building consent for individuals, housebuilders, charities, schools, leisure groups and farmers.”
At the end of the day, anything that helps to speed up the planning process and the delivery of new homes can only be good news for those in the planning and construction sectors.
We look forward to speaking and working with you all in 2024.
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