As pressure continues to mount on the Government to ensure the survival of the British construction industry, the Housing Secretary has announced new measures to boost building activity in the UK and to make it easier to comply with new safe working requirements introduced last month. The Business and Planning Bill (“B&P Bill”) tabled in the House of Commons on the 25th of June 2020 makes clear that the new measures are not limited to just residential developments.

The regulations include some important changes to permitted development rights, including more temporary uses of land for the rest of 2020, and the introduction of new requirements for the provision of adequate natural light for changes of use to residential. However, the most controversial change is the introduction of the right to construct two residential storeys on top of detached purpose-built blocks of flats. The right is subject to prior approval and several restrictions, including a height limitation, and doesn’t apply to buildings constructed after 5 March 2018. The government is hoping this measure will go some way to boost housing supply.

On the project timeline end of things, the proposal will see (1) planning permission deadlines extended, (2) planning appeals sped up and (3) builders able to institute more flexible working hours following agreement with their local council.

The first of those three measures appears to be driven by new data released on 19 June 2020, showing that the planning permission for 24,000 homes would have expired at the end of this month, along with more permissions expiring soon thereafter. Section 17 of the B&P Bill, however, extends the time limit to 1 April 2021 for the implementation of all planning permissions expiring between the enactment of the new provisions and the end of the year. It also enables the retrospective revival of all consents which have expired since 23 March, subject to the local planning authority being satisfied that the environmental assessments are still valid.

The second of the three measures, now section 20 of the B&P Bill, will permanently enable the Planning Inspectorate (PINS) to use more than one procedure – written representations, hearings and inquiries – in combination when dealing with a planning appeal, which will give it much more flexibility and will hopefully speed up the appeal process. This follows a pilot programme that tested this approach and implemented recommendations of the Rosewell Review, which more than halved the time taken for appeal inquiries from 47 weeks to 23 weeks.

The third measure, now section 16 of the B&P Bill, allows builders to apply to the relevant local authority for a temporary variation of planning conditions, limiting construction hours to allow them to stagger work schedules and / or extend the times at which works may be conducted. Councils will be required to respond within 14 days, with approval deemed to have been granted if they fail to do so. This has become necessary since the announcement last month requiring construction sites to be managed in a way that reduces the risk of infection, which in practice acts to reduce the number of people that can be on site at any one time. This also ensures that contractors can follow public health guidance onsite. By staggering builders’ arrival times, public transport will be less busy and the risk of infection will be reduced.

This announcement builds on previous measures to support the economy and protect the capacity of the construction sector, including:

  • Increasing financial flexibility for those engaged in the sector via loans, guarantees and in having deferred self-assessment payments (to 2021);
  • Instituting mortgage holidays for households and landlords alike, which will prevent a flood of foreclosures; and
  • Including construction sites, estate agents, conveyancers and others in the earlier phases of the reopening, with guidelines on how to do so safely.

For more information on this topic, please get in touch with one of the authors, or your usual Reed Smith contact.