What the British Government’s planning white paper means for the construction industry
The UK government has recently published a white paper titled ‘Planning for the future. Within this, they outline extensive plans to transform planning permission laws.
It has been suggested that the current system is unnecessarily complex and after years of inefficiency, it has ultimately lost the public’s trust. As a result, the government is overseeing a comprehensive system overhaul. The paper outlines 24 proposals to combat current issues, whilst areas zoned for growth are set to face “substantial development”, benefiting from outline permission. This white paper is predicted to incite significant change, transforming the world of property and construction as we know it… but are its outcomes going to be positive?
To help you understand the implications of this announcement, Dean Ward, Managing Director of the DCW Group shares his insights and expertise:
“With over 17 years’ experience in supporting local authorities, developers and the wider construction industry, I have a unique understanding of the property landscape. I am subsequently in a position from which I can advise and offer insight into what the government’s white paper could really mean for the construction industry.
“Firstly, according to the new white paper existing protocols for developer contributions will end. More specifically, Section 106 and the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) are to be scrapped, being replaced by a new, overarching Infrastructure Levy which has been devised to create a zonal planning system. This may sound drastic, but I am in fact relieved to find that both Section 106 and the CIL are being scrapped. If only one of these protocols was altered, then I would have foreseen significant challenges as a result. However, the government’s decision to remove both is, in my opinion, exactly what the market needs. Section 106 and CIL payments are known to be quite high, often meaning beneficial projects can’t go ahead. By scrapping these protocols, the government is making way for a higher frequency of invaluable projects.
“The industry’s apprehensions about Section 106 are understandable, it has been a prominent protocol for years after all. It saw developers deliver affordable homes in exchange for permission to build, something which has undoubtedly acted as the country’s biggest contribution to an affordable housing supply, accounting for 49% of all affordable homes completed in England between 2018-19. There is naturally concern that this change will negatively impact social housing, however I agree with the government’s sentiment that this new levy will reduce delays, benefiting communities and construction professionals alike. I also feel that this will create more transparency and certainty in creating affordable homes; without Section 106 authorities will be able to work with a variety of new, smaller contractors whom they wouldn’t otherwise have been able to access due to pointless restrictions. In theory, this change should actually foster the development of social housing.
“I do have one significant concern however. I worry that this change could instil a ‘bid’ mentality, whereby construction contractors under-price and pursue any and every project opportunity, forgetting the importance of value. Whilst delivering more social housing is pivotal, we must not sacrifice quality to rectify the economic consequences of Covid-19. We need to move slowly, carefully and with appropriate guidance to achieve desirable results.
“This white paper also outlines the government’s plans to reimpose top-down housing targets among local authorities. This will make every local authority bound by targets set by a renewed ‘standard method’ for calculating housing need, based on how many existing homes are in the area, projected rises in households and fluctuations in affordability. This could be outstanding for the construction industry, encouraging every local body to work more closely with developers to achieve impressive and informed targets. Although, I would note that monitoring this is of utmost importance. Moreover, these targets need to be monitored and held accountable by experts with years of industry experience – people who really know how the sector operates.
“The government has also scrapped councils’ ‘duty to co-operate’ with one another when drawing up local plans. This is a huge relief. The construction industry will no longer be restricted by unnecessary lines and inaccessible areas. Instead, if a plot of land is suitable for a local authority to work on, they will be entitled to collaborate with any local developers or construction companies they like. This will automatically generate invaluable opportunities for businesses and construction workers should see a rise in active projects across the board.
“Whilst much of this paper appears to be positive, there is one aspect which I am not impressed with; the constraints placed on growth and previous use. We need councils to re-evaluate their own land and property holdings, seeking external advice from companies like the DCW Group to sufficiently assess and support in re-using these. Re-use is essential for progress, particularly in Wales where we have an abundance of unused commercial outlets.
“I do however agree with the paper’s continued protection of all existing Green Belts and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. These guidelines will ensure that areas of open countryside, with no specific wildlife or landscape protections, are listed as ‘protected’, which means that the growth of our sector won’t come at a detriment to the environment. We can subsequently do as we’ve always promised; grow sustainably and in favour of the world around us, enriching the construction industry’s overall reputation.
“Among the paper’s may proposals, it’s ‘new design code body’ must be prioritised. This will be used to support local authorities in the creation of local design codes; every authority must employ a chief officer for design and place-making to oversee quality. This sounds idealistic, but careful consideration needs to be given to who’s appointed. This individual needs to have on-the-ground experience within the industry, they cannot lack this familiarity and understanding. Only by having first-hand appreciation for the realities of the construction sector can they really help to create beneficial, lasting change.
“Finally, the paper’s embracement of digital planning is a critical step for the construction and development sector; this will allow for much easier and more timely public access to planning documents as these will be published in accordance with standardised formats. Industry-wide change is taking place, with the white paper helping enormously. Fellow industry leaders are supporting this progress, coming together as a sector to create a brighter future. For example, I have just launched ‘DCW Insights’, an innovative project-identification app which speeds up project timescales and due-diligence. With DCW Insights all of the information you need about a plot of land, industry specialists, local data, nearby authorities and more will be available at the click of the button. Technology is truly leading our sector, reshaping its processes. I hope that, if the government fulfils the white paper’s proposals, this will support the progress that is already being made.
“Ultimately, the proposals in this paper will benefit the construction sector. If overseen sufficiently, it should enrich our industry.”