2020 Planning Round-Up

17th December 2020

2020 has without doubt been an eventful year, with major proposals from the Government to overhaul the present planning system in parallel with short term changes being brought in as a direct response to the global pandemic.

Changes have been made in response to the impact of Covid-19 in order to keep the development industry moving. Whilst many are only temporary measures the pandemic has undoubtedly been part of the catalyst for proposals of permanent change and major reform.

As the year draws to a close, Bell Cornwell has produced a round-up of the changes we have seen in 2020 that might just stick and looks ahead to what we can (dare we say it) expect in 2021.

Round-Up of 2020

The Business and Planning Act 2020 came into effect in July to make provisions for the promotion of economic recovery and growth. The Act sets out urgent, mostly temporary, measures, for example more flexible construction hours, extensions to planning permissions and essential CIL relief to the development industry during this difficult time. Bell Cornwell has a dedicated Covid-19 webpage, which includes a series of articles on the latest planning regulations and offers advice for their practical application.

White Paper, ‘Planning for the Future’, was published in August and sets out proposals for a significant reform of the planning system to ‘streamline and modernise’ the planning process. Three key headings were ‘Planning for Development’; ‘Planning for Beautiful and Sustainable Places’ and ‘Planning for Infrastructure and Connected Places’.  The intention is to improve design and sustainability as well as the system for developer contributions to infrastructure, whilst ensuring that more land is available for development where it is needed. Our White Paper bulletin provides more details.

 ‘Changes to the Current Planning System’ Consultation ran in August 2020, making clear the Government’s intention to act quickly. Key topics were revising the standard method for calculating housing need, increasing affordable housing thresholds, the provision of First Homes and enabling major housing led developments to be permitted through the PIP route. We now await the outcome of that consultation to see how the proposals take shape in practice but it is noticeable that the Government is already rowing back on various aspects of its housing need calculations in face of pressure from its constituents in the south of England. Find out more in our article ‘More Than Just Ideas‘.

Amendments to the Permitted Development Regulations have come into effect in several phases in an attempt to kick-start the economy and boost housing delivery through:

  • Facilitating more upwards residential extensions to existing buildings; and
  • Allowing the demolition of buildings (commercial, light industrial and residential) to deliver the building of more homes.

As is always the case, a vast number of conditions and restrictions still apply and prior approval is required from the Local Planning Authority. More details can be found in our ‘Onwards and Upwards’ article.

In addition, a Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government consultation is currently underway with proposals to allow the change of use from the new Class E to residential dwellings without the need to obtain planning permission. Please see our article from 10th December ‘Making Use of a Changed Use’ for more details.

All homes delivered through permitted development rights will, however, need to meet new national space standards from 6th April 2021.

A new simplified Use Classes Order, as referenced above, came into effect on 1st September 2020, alongside the new permitted development rights. The objective of this is to help support the economy, particularly the high street, in its recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. The new Use Classes make it easier for high street uses, among others, to change use without the need for a planning application. For more information, please refer to our article ‘Time to Regroup’.

What Can We Expect Next Year?

We expect the priorities at Government level to remain the same – supporting economic development and the reinvention of the high street.

We predict an increasing demand for staycations and domestic tourism due to Covid-19 and an impending recession, which should create opportunities for landowners and developers.

Long before the pandemic was on our horizon, we were already foreseeing the need for the planning system to adapt to changing behaviour and demands. The pandemic will only have reinforced that need and 2021 will see further significant change to our built environment as a result. See Partner Rebekah Jubb‘s article from June 2019, ‘Are we in the Midst of a Property Revolution?’

Whilst the simplified planning system that the White Paper aspires to create would no doubt be welcomed, it will be some time before the proposals can be put into place, with the need for new legislation and policy to be worked out first and the reality may be much ‘diminished’ when it comes to implementation. Watch this space!

Bell Cornwell continues to monitor all planning changes and updates and will be able to advise on the opportunities these create as things progress. Get in touch for clear, realistic planning guidance, we can help you navigate this unfamiliar territory to help meet your objectives.

Amy Roberts, Senior Principal Planner

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