Commenting on the Planning Reform in the Budget

13 March 2020

In amongst the chaos of the rapidly spreading coronavirus, Parliament has announced the 2020 Budget, which sets out a plan to support public services, individuals and businesses that may be affected by the outbreak.

One key announcement in the Budget was that the Government will publish a Planning Reform White Paper in the Spring and Robert Jenrick, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, has since spoken on the 2020 Budget and announced further details of the proposed planning reforms.

Planning Reforms

The Government is hopeful that the reforms will make it easier to build but also for developers to be accountable for high quality, sustainable developments in places where people want to live. The other notable headline points made by Robert Jenrick are as follows:

  • Plans to review the formula for calculating local housing need.
  • There is a call for innovative proposals for building homes above and around stations.
  • The Government will back brownfield sites for development which is supported by a new £400 million brownfield fund to assist with regeneration. A national map will be created to understand where these brownfield sites are.
  • A new digital modern planning system will be created to dramatically accelerate and simplify the whole planning process.
  • Reform and reduce planning fees and link these to Local Authority performance.
  • The Government has set a deadline of December 2023 for all Local Plans to be in place before it intervenes.
  • Explore the use of tools such as zoning and clarity of land ownership to create transparency.
  • Bring forward options for making planning permissions deliver once they have been granted so that homes can be provided quickly.
  • The creation of planning freedoms to make it easier to build upwards on existing buildings, as well as making it easier to demolish vacant buildings and redevelop into residential use.
  • Update the NPPF to improve good design and place making. As part of this, tree lined streets should be the norm. Policy will also be reviewed to prevent building on areas of flood risk.
  • A Key focus on the affordable housing program and brownfield housing fund to deliver housing across the country and build new communities. Overall, the key aims are to build more homes and help others buying more homes.


The creation of a digital modern planning system and a reform of planning fees to link them to performance are notable ambitions which on the face of it are the latest attempt to ‘speed up the planning system’. However, in 2015 we were told that councils must produce Local Plans for new homes in their area by 2017 or the Government will ensure that those plans are produced for them. Now Robert Jenrick appears to have moved the goal posts and set a new deadline of 2023 for all Local Plans to be in place before the Government steps in. Where does this leave authorities such as Wirral where strict timetables have already been agreed with the Secretary of State to deliver its Local Plan?

The review of the formula for calculating housing need (presumably the much-anticipated refresh of the standard method) will also be critical for plan makers and developers alike. Following the confusion in 2018 when the 2016-based household projections were published, it will be very interesting to see how the Government make the housing requirements for each individual local authority add up to the 300,000 pledged homes a year nationally, something which has been reiterated with a promise of £10.9 billion of funding in the Budget.

Perhaps the most radical announcement is the potential use of zoning and exactly what form it may take. For example, will it be something akin to the USA’s land use zoning system, or perhaps more like Germany’s.

As always, only time will tell whether any of these reforms will be effective, or be implemented at all, but we await the publication of the White Paper in Spring with interest.

Other Key Planning Related Points in the Budget

There are also several headline planning points from the Budget itself which are significant and summarised below.

Get Britain Building

The Budget states that for too long the UK has under-invested in infrastructure, leaving many people stuck with delays and poor service. In total, around £640 billion of gross capital investment will be provided for roads, railways, communications, schools, hospitals and power networks across the UK by 2024-25. The Government will publish a National Infrastructure Strategy later in the Spring. The Budget also announces:

  • £27 billion investment in English strategic roads between 2020 and 2025.
  • £5.2 billion for flood defences between 2021 and 2027 offering better protection from flooding for 336,000 homes and non-residential properties. Additional funding of £200 million will help communities most at risk of flooding recover faster.
  • £10.9 billion increase in housing investment to support the commitment to build at least 1 million new homes by the end of Parliament, an average of 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s

Local Transport

  • The Government intends to make an unprecedented investment in urban transport, starting by confirming allocations of over £1 billion from the Transforming Cities Fund.
  • Building on the Transforming Cities Fund, the Government will also provide £4.2 billion from 2022-23 for five-year funding settlements for eight Mayoral Combined Authorities (in West Yorkshire, Greater Manchester, West Midlands, Liverpool City Region, Tyne and Wear, West of England, Sheffield City Region and Tees Valley).


  • The Budget includes £12.2 billion for the Affordable Homes Programme to build affordable homes across England which will help more people into home ownership.
  • The Budget also includes £300 million for ambitious Mayoral Combined Authorities and local areas to establish housing on brownfield land across the country.
  • The Budget confirms allocations from the Housing Infrastructure Fund totaling £1.1 billion for nine different areas including Manchester, South Sunderland and South Lancaster. These successful bids will unlock up to 69,620 homes and will help to stimulate housing and infrastructure growth across the country.
  • Brownfield Housing Fund: The Budget launches a new £400 million brownfield fund for pro-development Councils and ambitious Mayoral Combined Authorities with the aim of creating more homes by bringing more brownfield land into development.
  • Building Safety Fund – the Budget confirms an additional £1 billion to remove unsafe cladding from residential buildings above 18 metres.

A written version of Robert Jenrick’s statement can be found here.

The full Budget statement published on 11 March 2020 can be found here.

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