Government announces 'most radical reforms' to planning system since 1945

The government has announced what it describes as the "most radical reforms to our planning system since the Second World War" and has pledged a "new approach" to planning.

A statement issued by Boris Johnson yesterday said that the reforms will make it "it easier to build better homes where people want to live". Under the new rules, existing commercial properties, including newly vacant shops, "can be converted into residential housing more easily, in a move to kick-start the construction industry and speed up rebuilding".

The changes promised include:

  • More types of commercial premises having "total flexibility to be repurposed" through reform of the Use Classes Order. The statement said that buildings used for retail "would be able to be permanently used as a café or office without requiring a planning application and local authority approval". However, it added that "pubs, libraries, village shops and other types of uses essential to the lifeblood of communities will not be covered by these flexibilities".

  • A "wider range of commercial buildings will be allowed to change to residential use without the need for a planning application".

  • Builders will no longer need a "normal planning application to demolish and rebuild vacant and redundant residential and commercial buildings if they are rebuilt as homes". This long-awaited measure was trailed by housing and planning minister Christopher Pincher last week.

  • Property owners "will be able to build additional space above their properties via a fast track approval process, subject to neighbour consultation". Last Thursday, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) published regulations introducing a new permitted development right, effective from 1 August, to allow blocks of flats to be extended upwards by two storeys to create new homes. An explanatory memorandum published alongside the new regulations said that the government intended to introduce "further permitted development rights for building upwards, including for new and bigger homes".

The statement said that all the changes are planned to come into effect by September.

Elsewhere, the statement said that the government will launch a planning policy paper next month "setting out our plan for comprehensive reform of England's seven-decade old planning system, to introduce a new approach that works better for our modern economy and society". Last week, Pincher said that a "bold" and "creative" planning white paper would be published "soon". In a speech this morning, Johnson asked why Britain is "so slow at building homes by comparison with other European countries". He said: "I tell you why - because time is money, and the newt-counting delays in our system are a massive drag on the productivity and the prosperity of this country and so we will build better and build greener but we will also build faster".

Alongside the planning announcement, the government today promised a £12 billion programme to support up to 180,000 new affordable homes for ownership and rent over the next eight years.

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