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The Spring Budget: Headlines but nothing more

Lawrence Turner, Director at Boyer expresses his frustration at how little the Spring Budget did for planning and housing delivery.

Perhaps this is the last announcement on planning before the general election? What we had hoped for is far greater support for the delivery of new homes to tackle the UK’s housing crisis. Instead of significant support for the delivery of new homes, the budget has offered re-announcements of policies and minor adjustments to the planning system. There are headlines, but nothing more.

Local Nutrient Mitigation Fund
The Local Nutrient Mitigation Fund, which aims to support the delivery of 30,000 homes by 2030 in areas affected by high levels of nutrient pollution is much welcomed – but this policy has been announced previously: it’s reannouncement today will make no difference.

Accelerated planning system for major commercial developments
Another proposal in the budget is the introduction of an accelerated planning system for major commercial developments, with a target determination time of 10 weeks and fee refunds if this target is not met. While this target is laudable, questions remain about whether local authorities have the capacity to meet it, especially given recent news that several councils are at risk of bankruptcy. The exclusion of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) developments from this proposal limits its potential impact on major commercial development projects.

Local authority resourcing
The government plans to invest in skills and education programmes to attract more people to take up roles as local planners in planning authorities. This is welcome, but it will take some time to see the effect of this investment.

Efforts to expedite the planning process are welcome, this proposal raises concerns about whether local authorities have the resources and funding to meet these targets. The proposal also includes increasing planning application fees to support local authorities, but there is a risk that applicants may pay more without receiving improved services.

The broadening of the ability to vary a planning permission through section 73B applications and the treatment of overlapping planning permissions is a positive step. These measures have the potential to address issues such as the Hillside judgement, which has caused delays in much-needed housing development projects.

Investment Zones
The Government has also announced the creation of six Investment Zones in various regions, with tax reliefs and investments in skills, research, innovation, and infrastructure. While this initiative offers potential for economic growth, it is crucial that similar attention and investment are directed towards the housing sector.

Housing targets
The Government’s continued reference to building 300,000 is becoming increasingly hollow, specifically following the recent changes to the NPPF and changes to the Five Year Land Supply which have led to many planning applications which would previously have been granted, being refused permission – worsening the housing crisis for all.

NSIPs
Reforms to speed up the consenting process for Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs) are welcome, but seem to lack substance in view of the fact that the Government has recently scrapped one of the largest NSIP projects so far this century – the northern leg of HS2.

The commitment to fill in some pot holes and rebuild some bus stations pales into insignificance alongside the scrapping of the Birmingham to Manchester line of HS2.

Conclusion
Overall, this Budget seems to fail to acknowledge that the country has a housing crisis and that things are getting worse, not better. Also that housing is a driver of economic growth and has the potential to significantly improve the economic circumstances.

We need a lot more than this to thoroughly address the housing crisis.

While investment into local authorities is welcomed, this makes the assumption both that the local authorities are adequately resourced and that the funding is ring-fenced, and neither are guaranteed.

While some measures have the potential to improve the planning process and housing development, more robust support and funding for new homes are necessary. The government must prioritise the housing sector to ensure the success of its efforts to alleviate the housing crisis.

 

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