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Planning Reforms Coming in 2024

To streamline and simplify the planning process for homebuilders, a significant series of planning reforms have been announced and are expected to take effect in 2024. This pivotal moment in planning policy aims to make the process of gaining planning permission more straightforward and less cumbersome for those looking to build or modify homes. From the introduction of the Levelling Up Bill to amendments in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), these reforms carry potential implications for your project or homebuilding efforts in your local area.

Levelling Up Bill

The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill represents a transformative shift in the United Kingdom’s approach to planning and development, designed to address longstanding inefficiencies within the current system. Housing Secretary Michael Gove’s critique of the planning process as “not working as it should” underscores the necessity for reform. This legislative initiative is poised to overhaul the planning application process, making it more efficient for residents, local authorities, and developers alike.

Streamlining the planning process

At the heart of the Levelling Up Bill is an ambition to make the planning process more streamlined and focused, particularly in its initial stages. The bill proposes reducing the burden of evidence required from applicants, aiming to expedite the development of plans and their adoption within a targeted 30-month timeframe. This represents a significant reduction in the time currently required to navigate the planning system, promising to make the process less daunting for homebuilders and developers.

Introduction of local design codes

A novel aspect of the Levelling Up Bill is the requirement for every local planning authority to create a design code specific to its area. These design codes will be instrumental in shaping the aesthetic and functional aspects of new developments, ensuring they complement existing local characteristics and community preferences. By embedding these codes into local or supplementary plans, the bill also seeks to foster a more cohesive and visually appealing built environment.

Empowering communities with street votes

Perhaps one of the most innovative features of the Levelling Up Bill is the introduction of ‘street vote’ powers. This initiative allows residents of a particular street to propose and implement redevelopment plans based on their collective design preferences. This mechanism empowers communities to have a direct say in the development rules that affect their immediate environment, therefore promoting a sense of ownership and involvement in local planning decisions.

Key reforms
  • National Housing Targets and Local Flexibility: While national housing targets remain in place, the bill introduces new flexibilities to accommodate local circumstances, recognising the diverse needs and capacities of different areas.
  • Green Belt Protections: The bill pledges to strengthen protections for Green Belt land, signalling a commitment to preserving these vital open spaces, although specific details on how these protections will be enhanced are awaited.
  • Brownfield Land Development: A clear priority is set on developing brownfield sites, with the government initiating a review to optimise the use of such land for development, aligning with sustainability goals and minimising the encroachment on green spaces.
  • Infrastructure Levy and Planning Permissions: The introduction of a new Infrastructure Levy aims to replace Section 106 agreements, offering local authorities the flexibility to set varying rates. This could incentivise the development of brownfield sites and potentially lower costs for self-builders and renovators.
  • Neighbourhood Plans and Developer Accountability: The bill strengthens neighbourhood plans and introduces penalties for developers who fail to commence construction on approved projects, addressing the issue of land banking and unfulfilled permissions.

Revised National Planning Policy Framework

In response to the Levelling Up Bill, the NPPF has undergone significant changes. These adjustments include a 35% increase in planning fees for major applications and a 25% hike for minor ones, along with a doubling of fees for retrospective applications in cases of planning breaches. New measures also address the rental of properties as short-term holiday lets, requiring homeowners to obtain planning permission for such use.

Local authorities now have enhanced powers to expedite permission grants and restrict planning permissions for historically slow developers. The framework also introduces Biodiversity Net Gain charges, with a specific focus on improving rural areas. This requirement has been delayed until April 2024 for small sites, aiming to ensure that development land improves post-construction conditions.

Future prospects and implications

Further changes are anticipated, including potential modifications to Article 4 directives and the conclusion of the Affordable Homes Programme for new applicants as of December 2023. These reforms emerged from a recognition of the need to update a planning system that has seen little significant change since 1947. The aim is to reduce bureaucratic red tape, accelerate housing development, and make the planning system more accessible, particularly benefiting self-builders and aspiring homeowners.

For self-builders, these reforms have already begun to make an impact. Planning reforms introduced in 2021 have emphasised design quality, therefore allowing local authorities to reject housing schemes that fail to meet quality standards. The National Model Design Code (NMDC) and the Future Homes Standard, set for 2025, further underline the government’s commitment to sustainability and high-quality housing development.

By making the planning process more efficient and community-focused, the government aims to facilitate a more dynamic and responsive housing sector, ultimately helping more individuals realise their home-building dreams.

How will planning reforms affect EWI?

The planning reforms introduced by the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill and changes to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) could indeed have implications for External Wall Insulation (EWI) projects. EWI is a crucial component in improving the energy efficiency of existing buildings and plays a significant role in the drive towards reducing carbon emissions in the housing sector.

Streamlining planning processes

The aim to streamline the planning process could benefit EWI projects by potentially reducing the time it takes to receive planning permission for renovations that include insulation improvements. Faster planning processes mean that homeowners and developers looking to improve energy efficiency can also implement these changes more swiftly.

Local design codes

With the introduction of local design codes, EWI projects might need to adhere to specific aesthetic and material standards set by local planning authorities. These codes could influence the type of materials used, the colours, or the methods of application, ensuring that EWI projects are in harmony with the local built environment’s character. It’s important for those considering EWI to engage with these design codes early in the planning stages.

Focus on sustainable development

The emphasis on brownfield development and the introduction of Biodiversity Net Gain charges underscore a broader focus on sustainable development practices. EWI projects, which contribute to the sustainability of buildings by enhancing energy efficiency, may therefore find more support within this framework. The reforms might encourage the incorporation of EWI and other energy-efficient technologies in both new builds and redevelopment projects on brownfield sites.

Infrastructure Levy and Section 106

The replacement of Section 106 agreements with a new Infrastructure Levy could impact funding for EWI projects. Depending on how local authorities set their levy rates, more financial incentives or support might be available for energy efficiency improvements.

Future Homes Standard

Looking beyond the immediate reforms, the Future Homes Standard set to be introduced in 2025 will require newly built homes to have significantly lower carbon emissions. While not directly part of the Levelling Up Bill or NPPF changes, this standard highlights the direction of travel for building regulations towards greater energy efficiency. EWI and other insulation measures will be crucial in meeting these new standards, suggesting a favourable outlook for the adoption of EWI in new construction and major renovations.


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