The Draft National Planning Policy Framework drawn up by the coalition proposes a marked shift towards a “presumption for consent’ meaning planning applications will be automatically granted provided they meet certain criteria.

A wave of opposition to this (especially with regards development on green-belt land) from countryside campaigners has intensified after it was revealed that some of the UK’s biggest house builders have been land-banking significant plots ahead of the reform. Estimates indicate that up to 620,000 homes could be built on the plots currently held.

Land-banking is, of course, nothing new and house builders will point to a record low in homes being constructed for nearly 100 years. By continuing to purchase plots of land (or alternatively securing an option to purchase) the sector has consolidated its position whilst the economy has struggled for significant growth. Savvy sellers can benefit from future planning permissions being granted after disposal of their land by negotiating on an overage agreement which triggers additional payments on planning being obtained.

The government is acutely aware that more housing is required but risk incurring the wrath of their traditional supporter heartlands by opening up the countryside to significant development work. Organisations such as the National Trust have been quick to condemn the proposed rule changes which would require Councils to have local plans for building.

Clearly the coalition is hopeful that a relaxation of the planning rules will help stimulate growth in the wider economy and ease the pressure on the housing shortage.  By simplifying the process and presuming in favour of the development from the outset, the onus will shift to those objecting the development to prove that it will damage the environment or a feature of historical heritage.

It remains to be seen in practice how such changes will apply at a local level. The government will no doubt be keen to press forward with the plans, especially in light of their forced u-turn following the outcry regarding the floatation of the proposed forestry sell-off.

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