On 6 September 2012 the government published its Ministerial Statement, setting out a raft of proposed changes to the planning system in order to – yet again – 'simplify and quicken' the regime.
- providing £200 million of new funding to support institutional investment in high-quality rented homes following on from Sir Adrian Montague's independent report on supporting the private rented sector;
- an additional 5,000 existing empty homes to be brought back into use through the extension of the government's refurbishment programme;
- investing another £300m in measures to support new affordable homes and bring empty homes into use;
- provide an additional £280 million of funding to extend the FirstBuy scheme for first time buyers;
- accelerate the release of surplus public sector land and empty offices through a targeted programme of transfers from other Government bodies with the aim of freeing up more brownfield land for development and regeneration;
- work with local communities and councils and introduce a series of practical measures to help speed up planning decisions and appeals, and major infrastructure;
- allow for developers to extend the duration of existing planning permissions;
- for a three-year period allowing homeowners and businesses to build much bigger extensions without planning permission than they can at present (from current 4metres to 6 or 8 metres);
- make it easier for developers to change unrealistic Section 106 agreements.
Most of these proposals will require consultation prior to drafting and publicising changes to legislation. Pickles is already preparing to deploy "crack teams of experts" to Councils to help them renegotiate S106 agreements that are no longer viable because of the economic climate. Councils are being encouraged to make the most of this facility to renegotiate affordable housing requirements before being forced to do so by the Planning Inspectorate under the proposed measures to allow developers to appeal immediately agreements which are too onerous in relation to affordable housing.
Another proposal to assist developers will be Pickles' plans for a team from the Planning Inspectorate to take over determination of application from Councils that have proven to underperform. There is no current guidance as to what the criteria will be to satisfy before being able to refer applications to the Planning Inspectorate instead of the Council, nor is there any detail on how the Planning Inspectorate will resource this extra provision. It sounds anything but simple and quick!
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