Today we have a new Prime Minister, bringing new policies. Much was said during the Conservative Party leadership election about what the new PM will change – a range of promises to the party faithful on the cost of living crisis, energy, housing and the environment to name but a few. The wording was careful, allowing for wide interpretation and leaving plenty of room for manoeuvre once more information was available to the new government. The questions now are what is going to happen next and when is it going to happen.

Red tape

Planning Resource has listed planning-related areas that Liz Truss spoke on during the leadership election, including:

  • on housing delivery and local need, the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill will be amended and new “opportunity zones” will be created with “reduced red tape” and targeted tax cuts;
  • on planning policy, red tape will be “ripped up” and new “investment zones” will be introduced with simplified planning regimes and new low tax areas; and
  • Brussels red tape and nutrient neutrality rules will be “scrapped” – on which more below.

An awful lot of red tape to be scrapped then.

This follows many years’ work already done by recent governments to slash planning red tape. The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, currently in Committee Stage in the House of Commons, seeks to do just that, but has been criticised for a lack of detail and clarity. In a recent letter to the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Greg Clark, the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee “expresse[d] concern about the Bill’s lack of detail on planning provisions” and warned that “much of the substantive detail will come in secondary legislation or after further consultation, leaving people guessing as to the direction of the Government’s planning agenda“. The Committee’s concerns are not unfounded – significant changes to the planning system in England have been achieved by recent governments without Parliamentary scrutiny through changes to secondary legislation, national planning policy and national planning guidance, resulting in piecemeal change to the system rather than the comprehensive overhaul promised by the August 2020 Planning White Paper. So perhaps red tape is not the problem here.

Nutrient neutrality

As for changes to nutrient neutrality rules, one also has to ask whether red tape is the issue. Our article in Property Law Journal this month (see here) explains the basics of Natural England’s nutrient neutrality guidance – why it was published, what it hopes to achieve, and what the previous government and Natural England only recently proposed to do to enable development to proceed without inflicting further damage to protected waters. The solution offered was pragmatic – to provide help to developers to mitigate the impact of new development alongside requiring water and sewerage companies to reduce pollution at source. Not without risk, but a potentially workable solution which does not involve the cutting of red tape but would require strong monitoring and enforcement powers over water companies to ensure they comply with their obligations and, importantly, the quick passage of the necessary legislation through Parliament. The proposed vessel for the necessary legislation was the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, which was widely considered before the leadership election to be a done deal legislation-wise. Changes to the Bill to reflect Liz Truss’ leadership election promises may slow its passage down at best.

Clarity and certainty

The new PM has urgent matters to deal with this week, with cost of living at the fore. However, housing security has been high on successive governments’ agendas for many years with planning reform touted as the solution throughout, and delays to these reforms seem to be causing near paralysis in development terms in some areas. We all look forward to some clarity about how current proposals for reform are going to change, and certainty as to when and how they are going to be delivered.

Our article on nutrient neutrality was first published in Property Law Journal 400 (September 2022) and is also available on lawjournals.co.uk.

For more information please contact:

Fiona Sawyer
Fiona Sawyer
Professional support lawyer, planning, London
+44 20 7466 2674