The last significant update to the planning system occurred in 1947.  However, the government has recognised planning red tape needs to be cut if housing stock is going to be created at the required rate.  This has triggered a range of planning law reforms – some of which are already in force, others are expected very soon – but what will change in planning law in 2024?

Continued changes to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill

Arguably the changes in planning law that will have the greatest impact are Michael Gove’s proposed reforms to a planning system he believes is “not working as it should” as part of the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill.  It is hoped these reforms will improve the planning application process for both residents and local authorities.

The Bill was approved in October 2023 and has introduced a number of key changes:

  1. National housing targets remain but there are now new flexibilities to reflect local circumstances.
  • Green Belt protections will be strengthened (although we are waiting to see how).
  • Brownfield sites will be prioritised for development.  The government will soon review how these types of sites can be used.
  • The 4 year rule is set to be scrapped and replaced with a new 10-year rule.
  • Local authorities will be able to set a new Infrastructure Levy for self-builders and renovators in their area.  This will replace the current Section 106 and has been introduced to lower rates on brownfield land to increase development in this type of site.
  • Neighbourhood plans will be strengthened to give communities more say in the future development of their district if the relevant plans have been part of a wider local authority development for five years rather than, is currently the case, two years.
  • New penalties for developers who are not making the required progress on homes that have already been approved.
  • The current obligation for local authorities to maintain a rolling five year supply of land for housing will end (as long as their local plans are kept up to date).

The Government has already been proactive in its attempts to progress certain elements of the Levelling Up and Regeneration Act.  A 6 week consultation on Street Development Orders was launched in December 2023.  Depending on the results of this consultation there could be further amendments to this way of obtaining planning permission. 

We believe this will more than likely be followed by more consultations examining and potentially amending more of the regulations within the Bill during 2024 and beyond.

Revisions to the National Planning Policy Framework

The Levelling Up Bill has also forced a number of changes to be made to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), the government’s economic, environmental and social planning policies, in December 2023.

While the focus of the  revisions is housing delivery, other areas are covered.  Here is a summary of the key points:

  • Making the preparation and maintenance of locally prepared plans a priority. 
  • The development of housing and any other required property should be done in a sustainable manner.
  • The standard method for calculating housing need in a local authority is only the starting point.  There will be exceptional circumstances which will require alternative methods of calculation.
  • Local authorities with an up-to-date local plan will no longer need to confirm their deliverable five-year housing land supply.
  • The 5% and 10% housing land supply buffers applied to local authority housing land supply calculations have been removed unless there is a history of under delivery in which case a 20% buffer may be applied.
  • The housing needs of older people have been added to the list of specific groups for which local authorities to consider.
  • Greater protection for local authorities where proposed housing development conflicts with a neighbourhood plan.
  • Local authorities may now choose to review and alter Green Belt boundaries in exceptional circumstances and make their desired changes via their plan-making process.
  • All references to entry-level housing exception sites or similar have been replaced with community-led developments or similar.
  • The supporting text has been amended to encourage community-led development across all types of property, not just housing.
  • Availability and quality must be considered when allocating potential agricultural land for development.
  • Significant increases in the average density of residential development in areas in which it would be wholly out of character with the existing area are now prohibited.
  • Local design codes (prepared in line with the National Model Design Code as well as beautiful and well-designed places) must be adhered to.
  • Planning Conditions should make reference to “clear and accurate plans and drawings”.
  • Significant weight should now be given to the need to support energy efficiency and low carbon heating improvements to existing residential and non-residential buildings.

However, this version of the NPPF did not, as had been expected, include the right to count “past irresponsible planning behaviour” against future planning applications.

With regards to implementation, these new policies will apply if the plans in question reached pre-submission consultation after the 19th March 2024.  Plans that reached pre-submission consultation on or before this date will be examined under the previous version.

The government will continue to provide guidance on certain aspects of these reforms in line with their recently issued guidance on where brownfield development can occur in Green Belt areas.

Further consultations are likely to follow during 2024 and 2025.  These will likely look at how to adapt to climate change, how to manage flood-risk, more effective provision of social homes and how to expedite the introduction of electric vehicle charging points.

The Procurement Act 2023

The Act was designed to update and consolidate the UK’s procurement rules.  It received Royal Assent on the 26th October 2023 and is expected to come into force in October 2024.

For those tendering for public contracts or looking to partner with local authorities, the Act will:

Increase transparency in terms of monitoring contract performance.

  • Make using framework arrangements more flexible.
  • Make it easier to modify contracts should a “known risk” arise.
  • Introduce revised grounds for exclusion which will include the ability to apply breach of contract to ‘connected entities’.

Biodiversity Net Gain charges

Biodiversity Net Gain charges were due to be introduced in January 2024, but it now looks more likely they will come into force in April.

This law seeks to ensure any land that has been a wildlife habitat before it was used for building houses is left in a better condition than it had been before construction started.  If it is felt the habit will be damaged, the builders will either have to purchase biodiversity credits or they may see their planning permission refused or revoked.

In practice this means residential developers must be aware that once it comes into force:

  • Builders will need to show there will be a 10% net gain in biodiversity on their sites following the completion of their developments in order to obtain planning permission in England and Wales.
  • Planning that obviously seeks to minimise damage to habitats will be viewed as viable and the developer will see a reduction in planning permission delays.
  • The cheapest way to achieve the required biodiversity net gain is to do all reparative work onsite.  Purchasing credits could well cost as much as 10 times the price of doing this work onsite.

Article 4 Directions

An Article 4 Direction is part of the Town and Country Planning Act.  It allows local planning authorities to withdraw or restrict development rights for homeowners for minor works that don’t require full planning permission like replacing windows or doors, adding cladding, or rendering or moving boundaries.

Article 4 directions can be introduced to control developments within designated conservation areas or control how homes are being used (i.e from a singular residence to an HMO) in these areas in a bid to ensure these developments do not impact the qualities or appearance of a conservation area or inhibit the future development of new housing stock in the area.

There is an expectation that there could be changes to Article 4 directions during 2024.  This expectation has grown following several councils’ recent use of Article 4 to protect certain types of housing, for example in cases where extensions to bungalows had threatened the supply of housing for the elderly.

We of course will continue to follow and report on developments across all these areas as information is made available through the year.

If you require additional guidance on any of these changes to planning law or on any aspect of planning law, please contact the planning and property specialists in our Civil Law team today.

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