Government Growth Plan - a Planning Perspective

As part of the Growth Plan presented by Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng on 23rd September, the Government has announced that they will be publishing a forthcoming Planning and Infrastructure Bill, with the aim of “accelerating priority major infrastructure projects across England.

The new Bill will seek to minimise the burden of environmental assessments; making consultation requirements more proportionate; reforming habitats and species regulations; and increasing flexibility to make changes to a development consent order once it has been submitted.”

It is proposed that the bill will include changes to allow onshore wind farms to be deployed more easily in England and to accelerate road delivery, along with prioritising the delivery of national policy statements for energy, water resources and national networks. 

Along with the forthcoming bill, the Government has proposed the creation of Investment Zones, with the aim of these being to drive growth and unlock housing. According to the Treasury, the need for planning applications in these new zones will be minimised and, where planning applications remain necessary, they will be radically streamlined.

As part of this, it is proposed to remove EU requirements that could delay the planning process, focus developer contributions on essential infrastructure requirements, reduce the consultation process with statutory bodies and relax key national and local policy requirements.

This will not be at the expense of policies to ensure that developments are well designed, maintain national policy on the Green Belt, protect heritage assets and address flood risk, highway and other public safety matters. The Government is currently in early discussions with 38 mayoral combined authorities and upper tier local authorities, who have expressed an interest in having such a site in their locality. 

However, the Growth Plan also states that the proposed legislation is aimed to minimise the burden of environmental assessments and reform habitats and species regulations. Whilst this can help with speeding up applications, especially where they are being held up by environmental factors, there is the risk that this will be at the expense of the natural environment, prioritising investment and growth against nature. There are already organisations which have raised concerns over this, in particular the National Trust and the RSPB.

It is also unclear what impact the announcement will have on the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill. This has now been sent to a Public Bill Committee, but the new announcements could increase the uncertainty and delays in changes to the planning system.

Mark Campbell, Head of Planning at Evans Jones comments:

“The Government often promote streamlining planning and making development proposals easier but often these plans are then shelved or watered down.  In my opinion the Government should be focusing on improving and investing in the planning system as a whole rather than reducing controls in specific areas which do not help the wider industry.”