Lambert Smith Hampton (LSH) has devised a five point plan to reinvigorate housing delivery

As some housebuilders prepare to restart construction work following several weeks of inactivity as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, the knock-on effects of the Government’s social distancing measures will mean that it will most certainly not be business as usual in the short to medium-term.

Irrespective of when construction work resumes, if the UK’s antiquated Planning System does not react quickly enough, implemented permissions and housing completions will all fall by the wayside, significantly impacting on the industry’s ability to deliver the Government’s somewhat ambitious target of 300,000 new homes a year.

Five point plan

Lambert Smith Hampton (LSH) has devised a five point plan of the most critical amendments required to the UK Planning System, which it believes the Government and the Mayor of London’s ‘Covid-19 Housing Delivery Taskforce’ must adopt to ensure the delivery of new housing can continue at scale and pace. They are:

Temporary extensions to planning permissions

House builders and developers, whether back on site or not, may face difficulty complying with existing planning permission requirements across their sites. Some consented applications may be at risk of expiring as a result, causing further delays and financial losses, as well as putting additional pressure on an already-overstretched planning system.

Introducing measures to either temporarily or permanently increase the lifetime of a Permission from the current three years to five would provide greater flexibility within the system and allow developers more time to catch up following the recent period of inactivity.

Relaxation of Early Stage Review mechanisms

Under supplementary planning guidance issued by the Mayor of London in 2017, developments that fail to make an agreed level of progress on site within a specified timeframe will be subject to an Early Stage Review mechanism to assess the level of affordable housing provision.

With construction sites across London having ground to a halt since lockdown was introduced, many are likely to fall foul of these review mechanisms, triggering an expensive and elongated viability process.

Temporarily relaxing the enforcement of these Early Stage Review mechanisms would allow development to recommence more quickly.

Temporary extension of Permitted Development Rights

First introduced in 2013 as a way to mitigate the UK’s chronic housing shortage, Permitted Development Rights (PDR) allow developers to convert existing office buildings into residential space without the need for detailed planning permission.

While any relaxation of PDR must be carefully controlled so as not to lose valuable commercial space in key areas, a temporary extension to other use classes could significantly reduce the amount of time local authority planning officers spend working on various applications that could easily be Permitted Development, thereby increasing capacity to deal with applications that require detailed consideration.

Amendment of s106 agreements

A lot of developers have seen their cash flow tighten drastically in the last few weeks, which is likely to dictate when, or indeed, if they will be able to start back on site.

While phased payments for s106 or CIL contributions are not necessarily a new concept, provisions must be established at the planning application stage for them to be permissible and even then they are at the discretion of the local authority.

It is a laborious process to amend S106 agreements post-consent, therefore allowing flexibility to agree phased payment plans for companies who can demonstrate difficulty with cash flow would assist in releasing financial pressure and ultimately enabling housing delivery.

Delegation of decision making

Given the redeployment of many council officials into front line roles in response to the COVID-19 outbreak in their local authorities, the speed and volume at which planning applications are dealt with is likely to be significantly affected.

Introducing emergency measures to allow elected councillors to delegate decision making to senior planning officers would enable a greater number of schemes to proceed at pace.

Rob Reeds, Associate Director of Planning, Development and Regeneration at LSH, commented:

The Coronavirus is likely to have a significant impact on housing delivery across the UK and, while support measures recently outlined by Tom Copley at the Greater London Authority and Nick Walkley at Homes England are encouraging, we sadly do not have the benefit of time.

“The Government must act decisively so that when the social distancing measures are lifted, we are still capable of delivering against their target of 300,000 new homes a year. Our five point plan our will ensure that developments continue to come forward and housing continues to be delivered.”