A week on - unravelling the Budget and what it means for planning

5 November 2018

Last week the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, delivered the Budget. Some say it’s a ‘remainers’ budget, whilst the Labour leader’s refusal to oppose a tax cut has been grabbing the headlines.

Scratching beneath the surface and looking past the political rhetoric (for instance, “austerity finally coming to an end.”), the focus remains on greater housebuilding and additional commitment measures to support the high street, which based on news last week citing that UK towns and cities are worse off than 100 years ago and more than 200 UK shopping centres are ‘in crisis’, is perhaps too little too late.

Although the Chancellor made no explicit reference to the 300,000 homes per year target, he did reaffirm the Government’s plans to oversee the biggest increase in housing supply since 1970 with a key focus on additional financial measures for first-time buyers. The Housing Infrastructure Fund (HIF) will be injected with a further £500m, increasing the pot to £5.5bn, with the Chancellor claiming the extra cash will unlock up to 650,000 new homes. Parish Councils across the country are also set to benefit from a substantial financial backing to support and secure housing permissions for ‘local people’ – underpinning Localism and May’s ‘Shared Society.’ Another indication that neighbourhood plans are here to stay.

Aside from cutting business rates and various forms of tax relief, planning measures to allow the high street to adapt were also announced in the form of a ‘Future High Streets Fund’. The Fund is intended to enable Councils to draw up plans to transform their high streets, implement measures to help convert underused land to residential through revisions to the complement the NPPF, and explore ‘potential’ alterations to the Use Class Order and PD rights to support greater flexibility and diversification of the high street.

Alongside the Budget, Sir Oliver Letwin published his Review of housing build-out rates and his plans to introduce new planning rules to sites of more than 1,500 homes (the Review’s definition of ‘larger sites’). The Review concluded that there is no systematic evidence of land banking and that the main way to speed up development is through encouraging a mix of housing types, sizes, styles and tenures. According to the report, a written ministerial statement could be the initial channel of delivering these proposals but in the longer term a new planning policy document could be annexed to the NPPF, in turn strengthening the national framework’s position on larger sites. There is clear ambition in the Review for LPAs and developers to come together and deliver ‘larger sites’ and the proposed establishment of an expert committee to mediate disputes could be a welcome addition to the much-maligned planning process.

It’s obviously too early to say whether this Budget has flattered to deceive, and with the Spending Review pencilled in for 2019, the modest, yet promising, initiatives announced this week will hopefully lay much-needed foundations.