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Osborne unveils major reform to brownfield land development

The government has outlined proposals to introduce a new zonal system that will effectively give “automatic planning permission” on suitable brownfield sites across the country. 

In George Osborne’s “Fixing the Foundations: Creating a more prosperous nation” document it was also noted that the government plans to “take tougher action to ensure that local authorities are using their powers to get local plans in place and make homes available for local people”. 

The chancellor noted that steps have already been committed to legislating for statutory registers of brownfield land suitable for housing in England. The government will go further by legislating to grant automatic permission in principle on brownfield sites identified on those registers, subject to the approval of a limited number of technical details. 

“On brownfield sites, this will give England a ‘zonal’ system, like those seen in many other countries, reducing unnecessary delay and uncertainty for brownfield development,” the document revealed. 

The government also wants to see all planning decisions made on time and plans to legislate to allow major infrastructure projects with an element of housing to apply through the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Regime (NSIP); tighten the planning performance regime, so that local authorities making 50% or fewer of decisions on time are at risk of designation; and legislate to extend the performance regime to minor applications, so that local authorities processing those applications too slowly are at risk of designation. 

Responding, the Local Government Association’s housing spokesman Mike Jones, who is also leader of Cheshire West and Chester Council, said councils wanted brownfield sites developed. 

However, he added that it is important to ensure the planning system remains proportionate and that local communities continue to have a say. 

Cllr Jones said: “The fact is, planning is not what’s holding up development – it’s the cost of remediation and infrastructure.” 

The British Property Federation (BPF) praised the government for the raft of planning reforms announced, but warned that some of the new measures will only work if the government addresses the severe shortage of funds within local authority planning departments. 

Melanie Leech, chief executive of the British Property Federation, said: “We are particularly pleased to see a commitment to bring forward brownfield land for re-developemnt and also the focus on Local Plans, as the absence of such is a real block to local growth. 

“In order for these changes to make a difference, however, we strongly urge government to begin a dialogue with both the public and private sectors on how to address the severe shortage of funds which is afflicting local planning departments.”

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