You will no doubt have seen the Prime Minister’s announcement this week of Project Speed and his imperative to ‘Build, Build, Build’.

Project Speed’s aim is to ‘scythe through red tape and get things done’ whilst the thinking behind ‘Build, Build, Build’ is fairly self-explanatory. Having said that, the Prime Minister’s decision to go on record to identify newts as a specific antagonist holding up housebuilding in his announcement singles out only one element of a significantly bigger picture.

The Government followed up the Prime Minister’s speech in Dudley with an itemised list of the reforms currently on their agenda. A policy paper is set to be published later this month setting out the legislative changes required to implement the Government’s proposals, with the reforms scheduled to be added to the statute books in September. 

Regeneration of our town centres has been on the agenda for over a decade now. The reforms include proposals that threaten to revolutionise how town centres function, with new permitted development rights allowing total flexibility for changes between commercial uses and additional flexibility to change premises from commercial to residential use. There will no longer be a requirement to obtain planning consent via a standard application to demolish vacant or redundant commercial or residential properties where these are being replaced with housing, and landowners will be able to build upwards from existing properties via a fast track approval process subject to neighbour consultation.

If the reforms are truly to be the most significant affecting the planning system since WWII, (presumably the Prime Minister meant in England only - there are common themes affecting other parts of the UK which our colleagues in Scotland and Northern Ireland are all too familiar with) then this presents an opportunity to go further than simply adding more flexibility to the system that will govern how we live post-COVID.

There are (and continue to be, despite the hard deadline for adoption) significant issues with England’s plan-led system, with only half of local authorities having an up-to-date local plan. Further, the use of a standard method for calculating housing targets is another key contributing factor to under-delivery of new homes. The reluctance to add major housing schemes as a category of Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project under existing legislation can also be seen as adding to frustrations, with significant housing developments falling foul of local opposition and different consenting regimes that cannot, under the current system, be dealt with concurrently in the same way as a major new infrastructure or energy scheme.

So plenty to go at, but also more that may well follow as part of Project Speed. There is speculation that there may be an introduction of a more zonal planning system but it is unclear whether proposals for this will be included in this month’s policy paper. We will keep you up to date on all announcements as they are made – perhaps all will not victimise the newt quite as callously but watch this space…