The government’s ‘Planning for the Future’ White Paper has the potential to fundamentally reform the planning system in England. Out for consultation until the end of October, these reforms propose a total rebuild of the local plan system and an annual target of 300,000 new homes for England.

The primary motivation behind the White Paper is to enable greater housing delivery across the UK, so WSP’s Planning Consultancy has set out five ways the reforms might achieve this in the North-West: 

1) Introduction of Zoning and Permissions in Principle 

The White Paper proposes that the production of Local Plans should be a simplified, 30-month, process that would begin with central government issuing an annual housing target for each Local Planning Authority (LPA).  
This new local plan process would be based upon three allocations of land: Growth areas (suitable for substantial development); Renewal areas, (suitable for some development); and Protected areas (where development would face more stringent controls).

The 30-month adoption process for a new Local Plan is ambitious, not least as some North West LPAs still have development plans that pre-date the previous reform of the local plan process in 2004. 

2) Abolition of Section 106 and CIL and replacement with an Infrastructure Levy

It also proposes that both the Community Infrastructure Levy and Section 106 contributions are abolished and replaced with a new Infrastructure Levy, based on the development value of a scheme. This new levy would apply to schemes carried out under permitted development rights, not just new planning permissions, and includes an option of offsetting payments by providing Affordable Housing as part of their development.

Importantly for developers across England and the North West, the new Infrastructure Levy only falls to be paid at the occupation stage of a development, meaning that some of the upfront costs of development can be offset. This should help make marginal sites such as those with considerable up-front remediation costs more viable across the region.

3) Benefits for Small Builders

The White Paper intends to deliver the government’s long stated ambition of helping small builders, housing associations and people looking to build their own homes enter the housing market. It proposes that allocated Growth Areas should include specific areas for self-building and that the Infrastructure Levy should not be incurred on sites below a certain value, which should help the region’s smaller developers.

4) A standard method for establishing housing requirement figures

It also proposes a new standard methodology for identifying housing need, based on central government giving each LPA an apportionment of the 300,000 new homes target.  Each LPA figure would take into account existing constraints (such as National Parks) and once issued, would be legally binding.  

Whilst a standard method for calculating housing need is likely to be welcomed, the process of central government issuing a housing figure to each LPA will not be without difficulties.  Whilst the standard methodology is likely to stay, expect an element of local input to be factored into the housing figures.

5) Implications for the North West’s housing market

The new standard methodology for housing requirements would have some surprising impacts on the housing market in the North West. It would also see increased roles for Metro Mayors including Andy Burnham and Steve Rotherham, both of whom have advocated a ‘brownfield first’ approach to housing delivery:

  • Greater Manchester: Whilst the overall figure for Greater Manchester would remain largely the same, on a district level it would increase the requirements for Rochdale and Oldham quite significantly, whilst reducing the figures for both Manchester and Trafford (which contain arguably the two most viable market areas in the city-region).  
  • Merseyside: Within the Liverpool City Region, the overall housing figure would remain broadly the same, albeit a drop for Liverpool City Council and a large percentage increase for Knowsley. Liverpool Metro Mayor Steve Rotherham has previously advocated a ‘brownfield first’ approach that looks to use some previously developed land capacity for an estimated 40,000 new homes.
  • Lancashire: East Lancashire would see some of the largest percentage increases in Burnley, Pendle, Blackburn with Darwen and Hyndburn, which would collectively see their housing figures more than double relative to the current standard methodology. The Fylde Cost authorities of Blackpool, Wyre and Fylde would also see a significant increase.

Interested to know more about planning in the North West? WSP’s ‘A-Z  of Manchester Planning 2020’ provides insightful data for planning professionals – find it here.

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