What does the Government have in store for planning and housing?

Following the prorogation of Parliament on Tuesday, the Government will present a Queen’s Speech next Monday, setting out the domestic agenda for the forthcoming parliamentary session. Critics have speculated that prorogation has been used by the Government to limit the time for opposition parties to debate Brexit, whilst the Government has maintained a Queen’s Speech is essential in order to set out the domestic agenda for the new administration under Boris Johnson.

Previous rhetoric from Downing Street and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government indicates a number of possible areas of legislation relevant to planning and development that may be announced on Monday 14 October, with immediate and direct impacts for Newington’s clients and the wider housing sector.

 

Planning reform

As announced by Secretary of State Robert Jenrick at Conservative Party Conference and reiterated in announcements earlier this month, the Government is proposing to bring forth an ‘accelerated planning’ green paper in November 2019.

 

The move will see the simplification of the planning process and measures to ensure local authorities improve the time and efficiency in which they process planning applications, including allowing councils to increase the fees charged for applications, whilst allowing a rebate to developers if their proposals are not processed within an established timeframe.

The Government has also proposed introducing proposals to allow homes to be built above existing properties as well as seeking views on improving measures for demolishing old commercial buildings, to make way for residential developments.

 

Leasehold and commonhold reform

The Government has made several commitments to-date towards reforming leasehold tenancies, including improving rights and protections for tenants. These include: legislating to prohibit the sale of new residential long-leasehold tenancies; reducing ground rents in new developments to a token ‘peppercorn’ value; improve tenants’ access to information surrounding tenancies; and improving steps for individuals to secure a freehold tenancy.

 

The private rented sector

The Government has committed to the introduction of statutory regulation of letting and managing agents, enforced by an independent regulator. There is also a commitment to require all private landlords to be members of a redress scheme.

The Government is currently consulting on proposals to abolish the use of ‘no-fault’ section 21 evictions under the Housing Act 1988 and to amend the section 8 eviction process. With the consultation closing on 12 October 2019, it is likely that the recommendations may influence future legislation into 2020.

 

However,  with many in the Conservative Party feeling unease at a policy which flies contrary to the Party’s belief in individual liberty and entrepreneurial spirit, it is likely that this commitment may be significantly watered-down or abandoned altogether by the current administration, along with a number of other more tenant-focussed policies promoted under the last Prime Minister.

 

Consumer redress

As part of the measures touted by Theresa May, the Government has maintained its commitment to bring forward legislation to strengthen consumer redress in housing. The legislation would require: private rented sector landlords to be a member of a redress scheme; freeholders of leasehold properties to be a member of a redress scheme; developers of new-build homes to belong to a New Homes Ombudsman; and the possible creation of a dedicated housing court.

 

However, in light of recent £13bn commitments for the NHS, police and schools announced by Sajid Javid in the Spending Review 2019, it is likely that funds for these commitments will be redirected away from the proposals and any financial burden might be more likely to fall on the sector itself.

 

Regulating buildings

Legislation is expected in the next session for a new system for regulating high rise buildings. This could feature in the October 2019 Queen’s Speech.

 

A consultation, ‘Building a Safer Future: proposals for reform of the building safety regulatory system’, was launched on 6 June 2019 and closed at the end of July. On 5 September 2019, Robert Jenrick set out the Government’s position on building safety:

 

““…Secondly, with respect to the “Building a Safer Future” consultation, I intend to respond by the end of the year and to legislate at the earliest opportunity. I believe that we should establish a new building safety regulator to oversee the new regulatory regime for buildings. However, it is clear that we need to act now, so we are working with the Health and Safety Executive to use its experience to set up the regulator in shadow form prior to new legislation, and I want to see that happen as soon as practicable. We will take decisions on the regulator’s long-term functions and structure during autumn. Again, I will update the House accordingly.””

 

The legislation may cover other areas of building law and is expected to principally cover England only, as building regulation is a devolved area of responsibility. It is likely that any such proposals will expand on the December 2018 Implementation Plan following the recommendations of the Hackitt Review into the Grenfell Tower fire.