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Planning law expert comments on PM’s call to “build, build, build”

Boris Johnson has announced, what the Government has described as, “the most radical reforms to our planning system since the Second World War, making it easier to build better homes where people want to live”.

The new proposals are expressed to soften the economic impact of coronavirus with the PM vowing to “build, build, build”.  They include investment in new academy schools, homes, green buses and broadband with significant sums of money earmarked for hospital building and new roads.

Legal changes to facilitate these plans are anticipated to be in place by September.  There is an expectation that developers will still need to adhere to high standards and regulations but “without the unnecessary red tape”.  Ahead of the Spending Review, the Government has also announced a new strategy to look at how public sector land can be managed, released and put to better use. 

These announcements have also come alongside a package of measures to support building across England (some of which have been re-announced) including a planning Policy Paper in July setting out the Government’s plan for the comprehensive reform of England’s planning system.

Paul Wootton, partner and head of Howes Percival’s Planning team and Development Sector:

“The development industry will be critical to economic recovery and changes which speed up the period from project inception to development and occupation of buildings are to be welcomed.  Flexibility on the use of buildings in town centres is capable of helping to regenerate and reinvigorate areas which have been struggling for some time.  However, the boast that this flexibility will relieve pressure from the greenfield development seems very unlikely.  The fact remains that the majority of new housing is built on greenfield sites for a whole host of reasons. 

“The challenge in commenting on these announcements is that there is very little detail at this stage and the devil will most certainly be in the detail.  As a practitioner with over 25 years’ experience as a planning solicitor, I have heard numerous Prime Ministers and Ministers announce efforts to simplify the planning system and very few have succeeded, even partially!  We know from experience that changes to law and policy do bring with them opportunities but with new law and policy comes greater scrutiny and risk. 

“Wholesale changes to the existing system carry with them the risk that development is stifled, not accelerated.  It also has to be acknowledged that England is a relatively small land mass with a large population.  New development will on occasion cause controversy and contentious decisions tend to be made by elected members and can be politicised.  A new system will not change that inherent challenge in the planning system.

“The funding for the delivery of affordable housing is also welcome although it remains to be seen whether “First Homes” will be any more successful than “starter homes” which were subject to a smaller reduction in market value and less onerous sale restrictions, but have resulted in very few such homes being constructed. 

“Despite the concerns, I think it is important that we are not cynical at this stage about what the planning Policy Paper until we have properly considered it.  It is true that other politicians may have failed to deliver against what in essence is the same agenda, simplifying the planning system.  However, we are living in unique times and it might just be that this is the economic environment which facilitates positive improvements to the planning system that we would all welcome.”

Howes Percival’s property experts act for major housebuilders, retailers, construction companies, landowners, housing associations, developers and public authorities as well as private individuals and businesses and cover everything from land promotion and planning through to plot sales and dispute resolution. 

The firm’s comprehensive commercial property service covers planning and environmental law, minerals and waste, compulsory purchase, village greens, development including strategic land acquisitions, the management of real estate portfolios, property finance, leases and other landlord and tenant matters, property litigation and construction contracts and disputes.

Howes Percival is ranked as a top-tier firm for Planning and Environment in one of the UK’s leading guide to law firms, the Legal 500, and earlier this year was ranked sixteenth in a survey of leading planning law firms in the UK.  Planning Magazine’s 2020 Planning Law Survey, also identified Howes Percival as a firm with a ‘growing reputation’.  

For more information on Howes Percival’s planning team visit: https://www.howespercival.com/services/planning/

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For further information please contact:

Gordon or Liz at MAW Communications on 01603 505 845

Notes to editors:

Howes Percival has offices in Cambridge, Leicester, Manchester, Milton Keynes, Northampton and Norwich.  It has 49 partners and 169 lawyers in total.

The firm is recommended in The Legal 500 – the authoritative guide to the UK’s leading law firms.  In the 2020 guide, no fewer than 12 different departments achieved the guide’s highest possible ranking (Tier 1): Corporate and Commercial; Dispute Resolution – Commercial Litigation; Dispute Resolution – Debt Recovery; Finance – Insolvency and Corporate Recovery; Human Resources – Employment Law; Human Resources – Health and Safety; Private Client – Agriculture and Estates; Private Client – Tax, Trusts and Probate; Real Estate – Commercial Property; Real Estate – Property litigation; Real Estate – Environment & Planning; Technology, Media & Telecoms – Intellectual Property.