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PM announces 'most radical reforms' to planning since WW2

Boris Johnson has announced a series of planning reforms as the government looks to bounce back from Covid-19.

The plans look to give builders an easy route to transforming buildings to new homes.

Under the new rules, existing commercial properties, including newly vacant shops, can be converted into residential housing more easily.

The Prime Minister has also announced that a wider range of commercial buildings will be allowed to change to residential use without the need for a planning application.

Builders will also no longer need a normal planning application to demolish and rebuild vacant and redundant residential and commercial buildings if they are rebuilt as homes, in a move that may concern those with objects to "rabbit hutch" homes.

Property owners will also be able to build additional space above their properties via a fast track approval process, subject to neighbour consultation.

Government say the changes will "reduce the pressure to build on green field land by making brownfield development easier" but insist developers need to adhere to high standards "just without the unnecessary red tape".

The Prime Minister also announced a look into how land owned by the government can be managed more effectively.

Ahead of the Spending Review, a new, cross-government strategy will look at how public sector land can be managed and released so it can be put to better use. This would include home building, improving the environment, contributing to net zero goals and injecting growth opportunities into communities across the country.

Part of the announcements was the confirmation of £12bn for 180,000 affordable homes for ownership and rent over the next eight years as well as including a pilot of the controversial First Homes scheme. 

1,500 homes will be First Homes, the latest government initiative to get more first-time buyers onto the market, with a 30% discount which will remain in perpetuity. 

The government have also announced that it has allocated the £400m Brownfield Land Fund to various areas across England to support 24,000 homes, including West Midlands, Liverpool and Sheffield. 

To help with 7,200 homes, Boris Johnson also announced the Home Builders Fund to help smaller developers access finance for new housing developments will receive additional £450m boost.

Also announced today, the government will launch a planning Policy Paper in July.

Responding to the speech today, PlaceShapers Board member Claire Higgins, said: “We fully support the PM’s ambitions to ‘build, build build’ and PM’s focus on righting the wrong of decades of underinvestment in homes.

"We also welcome the focus on levelling up but we are worried that the proposals announced today favour those who can access home ownership. There are many of our lowest paid workers for whom this will never be an option.

"Investing in good quality social rented housing is more critical than ever. It would speed up our economic recovery, provide homes for people who have given so much during the pandemic and help all those people who are still on waiting lists or in unsuitable temporary accommodation. 

"Instead, we fear the affordable housing programme has been cut. Rules to speed up the planning system risk a rush rush to deliver poor quality homes that people don’t want and that don’t help build resilient and strong communities."

Also responding was Brian Berry, Chief Executive of the FMB, who said: “A complex planning system hampers the ability of small to medium-sized (SME) house builders to bring forward new homes.

"I therefore welcome the Prime Minister’s statement of intent to radically reform this process. Builders have been concerned for years that the planning system needs updating so as to alleviate workloads for stretched departments but also to speed up decisions.

"More money for the Home Builders Fund is positive, but this must now be open to micro builders delivering five homes or fewer, often on small brownfield sites. The apprenticeship guarantee will be vital in construction where we have been experiencing a skills shortage for many years.

"It is not possible to ‘build back greener’ and better without upgrading our existing buildings, however. Heating our homes accounts for 20% of total UK carbon emissions and these buildings must be insulated as soon as possible to achieve net zero by 2050.

"This programme of work will also help to boost activity in the repair and maintenance building sector which has seen workload, employment levels and enquiries all fall to historic lows this year.

"These firms employ hundreds of thousands of people, and SMEs train 71% of apprentices in construction. They are key to the levelling up agenda and boosting regional growth.”