Impact of Brexit on planning policy

Brexit initially put the Government’s grand plans to shake up the planning system on hold, with Ministers distracted by all the headless chickens running amok.  Now that heads have been screwed back on, the Government is even more focused than it was before Brexit on the vexed issue of strengthening the British economy.  There is consensus that more housing is needed.  As to where and what, that is where it gets interesting….

Teresa May’s Government published its proposals on 7th February 2017 in a Housing White Paper, which includes proposed changes to the National Planning Policy Framework.  The changes will be confirmed in autumn 2017, and their direction of travel is worth noting.

A not-so-surprising consensus is that the country needs more housing for the elderly.  Warnings of a demographic time-bomb have moved into a slow-motion explosion as the number of people over the age of 65 is set to increase very rapidly.  To meet this demand a range of properties are needed, particularly one and two-bedroomed dwellings close to bus stops and amenities.  The grey pound is worth a bob or two, with a vast amount of housing equity in the hands of the elderly.  They need suitable housing that is well designed (think wheelchair compatible), light and airy for people who spend most of their day at home, warm and easy to maintain.  Planning policy is changing to help support a national drive to deliver more of this type of housing, providing welcome support for those who wish to help make it happen.

Brexit brings enough battlegrounds for the Government, which has backed off from any battles over the Green Belt.  Now is not the time to push your luck on new build on a Green Belt site.

Brownfield land is back in vogue.  The Government has signalled that the revisions to the National Planning Policy Framework expected in autumn 2017 will encourage schemes on brownfield sites.  For the cynical, this represents no change.  For optimists, it signals that renovations and redevelopments will be supported by the planning system.

Beware any heritage issues however.  The planning system gives very strong protection to “heritage assets” and unfortunately these are not confined to those that have been previously identified or listed.  Any building, particularly pre-twentieth century buildings, can be declared by a Council to be a “non-designated heritage asset” or a building that “contributes to the character of an area”.  This can kill a renovation project very quickly, so be very careful to consider this angle when choosing a property.  If in doubt, assume that the Council will want to conserve any “heritage value” and take advice from a planning consultant as to how to deal with this.

Overall, the Government wants to encourage housebuilding and is particularly keen on brownfield sites and meeting the growing need for smaller properties.  If you can have this tide behind you rather than against you, it will help you to achieve planning consent more easily.

Written by Helen Howie