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Councils to be forced to allow building on more brownfield land

The government wants developers to be given automatic planning permission to build on 90% of brownfield land that currently lacks permission by 2020. 

Councils can grant local development orders, which grant automatic planning permission to specific types of development in a defined area, to encourage developers to build without going through the formal planning application process. 

The Department for Communities & Local Government (DCLG) says it will step in and take action against councils that do not grant local development orders on 90% of brownfield land with no planning permission by 2020. 

It will extend the measure under which local planning authorities can be designated as ‘under-performing’ where the speed or quality of their decisions has fallen below a ‘prescribed threshold’. 

The designation process, which has been in operation since October 2013, has proven an effective measure in cutting the time taken to determine applications for major development, claims the DCLG. 

Between July and September 2014, local planning authorities decided 78% of applications for major development on time, up from 69% a year earlier and a low point of 53% in January-March 2012. 

But the DCLG says that if this approach is to be extended to planning “positively” for brownfield land, it needs to be aligned with the overall objective of the policy, which is to allow residential development to come forward more easily on suitable brownfield sites. 

The government’s consultation document says: “Our proposal is to extend this [designation] measure so that authorities could also be designated as under-performing where they do not meet the objective for bringing forward sufficient coverage of local development orders on brownfield land suitable for new housing, or where authorities have failed to provide sufficient evidence that this objective is being met.” 

There was some reprieve for local authorities, as the DCLG said it recognises that it may not be possible for an authority to put local development orders in place on at least 90% of suitable brownfield land where large sites suddenly become available shortly before 2020. “Because of this we propose that authorities would be assessed on the extent to which brownfield land suitable for housing identified the previous year was covered by local development orders.” 

However, once 2020 is reached, DCLG said it would make designations once a year, in the spring. “We would identify authorities as being at risk of designation where the data they have published on their websites suggests that the authority had not, at the time of the assessment, put local development orders in place on 90% of their brownfield land identified a year previously as suitable for housing.” 

The government is also seeking views on standardising local authority data to identify brownfield sites suitable for development. 

Responding to the proposals, the British Property Federation (BPF) praised the government for its commitment to helping developers to build on brownfield land.

Melanie Leech, chief executive of the BPF, said: “We need to deliver a huge number of new homes if we are to solve the current housing crisis, and encouraging development on brownfield land has an important part to play in this. 

“We are slightly concerned that, as local authorities are so lacking in resources right now, it is going to be difficult for them to implement this policy, but look forward to working out the detail with government to iron out the detail. We hope that this policy will lead to positive planning in the right areas, to create sustainable, mixed-use developments where people can work, live and play.” 

Those wishing to respond to the consultation have until 11 March 2015. To view the document, click here

Published just prior to the consultation, a Treasury-commissioned review on the role local authorities could play in increasing housing supply has recommended a range of new measures aimed at kick-starting a wave of new housebuilding by councils. 

Led by housing lawyer Natalie Elphicke and Eastleigh Borough Council leader Keith House, the review has suggested that local authorities could become ‘housing delivery enablers’. 

The report claims that councils have a primary role in setting out a vision for the development of their areas and they can be active in creating housing opportunity. 

Elphicke said: “There have been many great reforms. Now it’s time for councils to foster a homebuilding revolution. Councils hold the key to shake up the status quo and to get Britain building.” 

Responding to the paper, Cllr Peter Box, LGA housing spokesman, said: “Councils are already working hard to make sure the homes our communities need get built. We have the ambition and appetite to build more affordable homes and are finding innovative ways to use land and finance building schemes. 

“Councils must have a lead role in building if we are to deliver the homes and infrastructure we need, as this report recognises. It is positive that the report recommends a stronger role for councils in joining up public sector land and highlights opportunities for new ways of financing housing which the LGA is working with councils to explore.” 

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