The Housing and Planning Bill is going through the Houses of Commons

October saw the government’s Housing and Planning Bill, which applies primarily to England, introduced to the House of Commons. Through the Bill, the government aims to build more homes that people can afford, give more people the chance to own their own home, and improve the way housing is managed.

Housing development masterplan

Housing development masterplan

The Bill

The Housing and Planning Bill includes a series of reforms to ensure the planning system does not add unnecessary obstacles to the delivery of new homes.

Items of note within the Bill include:

  • taking forward the government’s commitment to require local authorities to manage their housing assets more efficiently
  • enabling local planning authorities or neighbourhood groups to grant planning permission in principle for housing sites at the point a site is allocated in an adopted local/neighbourhood plan document or local brownfield register
  • streamlining the planning process
  • allowing developers to include an element of housing as part of their application for consent for a nationally significant infrastructure project
  • reducing the time for the neighbourhood planning process to be completed
  • allowing the communities secretary to prepare or revise a development plan or direct a council on how to proceed in certain circumstances
  • allowing the communities secretary to grant unconditional permission in principle directly (or provide for local authorities to grant it) to development proposals meeting certain criteria.

Brownfield sites

The Bill allows for Local Development Orders (LDO) to be made on all suitable brownfield sites listed on a statutory register, in order to simplify and promote their development. The LDO brownfield sites process will give ‘automatic’ permission for housing schemes, and RIBA and the Planning Officers’ Society have voiced concerns over this in terms of the quality of developments and the appropriateness of some sites that might be included.

One of the key concerns for nature conservation arising from the Bill (raised by bodies such as the RSPB and The Wildlife Trusts) also relates to the Bill’s approach to brownfield land. While, in principle, this may seem better than development of greenfield sites, in ecological terms this may not always be the case. Brownfield sites can often contain significant ecological interest, which might outweigh, for example, an agriculturally improved greenfield site.

However, as one of its Core Planning Principles the National Planning Policy Framework aims to “encourage the effective use of land by reusing land that has been previously developed (brownfield land), provided that it is not of high environmental value” (our emphasis). For further information,Wildlife and Countryside Link has produced guidance on this issue, available here.

In conclusion

Although we support the general principle of developing brownfield sites over greenfield, appropriate ecological assessment must still be a key part of the planning decision in bringing these sites forwards. At the moment it is not clear how technical details such as flood risk, site contamination, heritage, access and ecology would be considered as part of the LDO process. This is potentially a large stumbling block, which might render sites that are listed on the brownfield register unviable for developers and would likely still require Environmental Impact Assessments for larger schemes.