Thursday, 24 March 2011

What did the Budget do for us?

As I indicated yesterday, the Budget statement is only the first gust in a blizzard of paper which blows out of Whitehall on these occasions. This included a major new policy document - “The Plan for Growth” - issued jointly yesterday by the Treasury and the DTI (or whatever it’s called nowadays). In this post I will concentrate on what the Chancellor said in relation to town and country planning in the Budget statement itself, and will look at the other publications later.

Osborne claimed that every Government had identified the planning system as a chronic obstacle to economic growth in Britain, but no-one had done anything about it. He was careful to say that local communities should have a greater say in planning (the ‘localism’ agenda, which it appears the government is already beginning to regret), but the government will now expect all bodies involved in planning decisions to prioritise growth and jobs, and will introduce a new presumption in favour of sustainable development, “so that the default answer to development is Yes”.

The Chancellor assured the House that the government will retain existing controls on Green Belts, but the previous policy of directing development to previously developed ‘brown land’ in preference to green field sites is to be abandoned. They will also allow certain use class changes (although it is not clear whether this will take the form of a widening of certain Use Classes in the UCO or the extension of PD rights for changes of use between use classes in Part 3 of the Second Schedule to the GPDO, or both).

There was a gnomic reference to the introduction of “time limits on applications”, which will clearly require further explanation, and the Chancellor confirmed that the government intends to pilot Vince Cable’s idea of auctions of planning permission on land, starting with certain public sector land. So I was wrong in my recent post in suggesting that this was merely a kite-flying exercise on the part of the of the President of the BoT, but I still remain sceptical as to its practicability.

The Budget statement also contained an announcement that the government will fund 21 new enterprise zones. Businesses will get up to a 100% discount on rates, new superfast broadband and the potential to use enhanced capital allowances in zones where there is a strong focus on manufacturing. In return for radically reduced planning restrictions, the government will let local authorities keep all business rate growth in their zones for a period of at least 25 years to spend on development priorities.

The first 10 enterprise zones will be in Birmingham and Solihull, Leeds, Liverpool, Greater Manchester, the Tees valley, Tyneside, the Bristol area, the Black Country, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, and Sheffield. Specific locations of the new enterprise zones are to be announced today (24 March), and a further zone will be located in London, where the Mayor has been asked to choose a suitable site. A further 10 enterprise zones will be announced in the summer. Local enterprise partnerships have been invited to come forward with proposals for these.

Obviously a great deal of detail remains to be added in order to make it clear what the government actually intends, and some further clues can no doubt be gleaned from “The Plan for Growth” and other documentation. In the meantime, though, the RTPI’s disappointingly negative (and frankly premature) reaction to these announcements seems rather silly and will only serve to further undermine that organisation’s reputation.


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