WaGCG : Wantage and Grove Campaign Group
Wantage and Grove Campaign Group (WaGCG)

Column 19th October 2022

Uncertainty in the only certainty in planning

The only certainty in planning is uncertainty.

The Government has been discussing changes to the planning laws ever since the last election but nothing has yet got to the statute books.

The government published the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill in May this year, which marked a significant rethink on the controversial proposals announced in 2020, but in the ill-fated mini budget different planning reforms were announced to streamline the planning process and make it easier to release more land for housing in new ‘Investment Zones’.

These Zones will have 'liberalised' planning frameworks to encourage rapid development, as well as targeted tax cuts to spur development of new housing.

Oxfordshire County Council declined the invitation to be a zone as they said that the Zones are incompatible with their net zero carbon aspirations and their commitment to protect and enhance biodiversity and environmental quality.

There is now speculation about whether the Levelling up and Regeneration Bill announced in May will be scrapped.

So even though all of the District Councils in Oxfordshire are working on Local Plans no-one knows what the laws which govern those local plans will be.

Under the planned changes, the section 106 (developer contributions) would instead be replaced with an “infrastructure levy” (probably different to the Community Infrastructure levy used for small developments at the moment) – although details of how this levy would be calculated have not been disclosed.

Other changes the Bill would bring about include removing several key items from Local Plans, including heritage, noise, air quality and protection for the green belt (and probably for Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty).

There could also be streamlining and digitisation of some aspects of the planning process and the timeline and renewal of local plans could also change.

House building targets which force Councils to approve applications if the developers don’t build fast enough could also change or even be removed.

Street votes could be introduced where local residents get a vote on whether to allow certain low level planning applications based on a design code that has been drawn up by residents.

Given that the headlines are full of possible changes to taxes and U-turns on the budget statements and that ministers seem to be changing their minds on a daily basis, the only certainty is uncertainty.

The only thing I know for certain is that planning consents already granted and developments being built are unlikely to change.

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