Historic planning overhaul unveiled to get Britain back in business

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has unveiled what he describes as ‘the most radical reforms to our planning system since the Second World War’ and has pledged a ‘new approach’ to planning as new and greener building strategies were announced as part of his programme to bring Britain out of hibernation following the brunt of the COVID-19 lockdown.


‘We will make it easier to build better homes where people want to live,’ he said in a major speech to kickstart the economy as lockdown is eased.


New regulations will give greater freedom for buildings and land in town centres to change use without planning permission and create new homes from the regeneration of vacant and redundant buildings.


Under the new rules, existing commercial properties, including newly vacant shops, can be converted into residential housing more easily, in a move to get Britain building and back to work to open up the economy which suffered so harshly when businesses were ordered to close back in March as the virus took hold.

The changes include:

  • More types of commercial premises having total flexibility to be repurposed through reform of the Use Classes Order. A building used for retail, for instance, would be able to be permanently used as a café or office without requiring a planning application and local authority approval. Pubs, libraries, village shops and other types of uses ‘essential to the lifeblood of communities’ will not be covered by these flexibilities.
  • A wider range of commercial buildings will be allowed to change to residential use without the need for a planning application.
  • Builders will no longer need a normal planning application to demolish and rebuild vacant and redundant residential and commercial buildings if they are rebuilt as homes.
  • Property owners will be able to build additional space above their properties via a fast track approval process, subject to neighbour consultation.


These changes, which are planned to come into effect by September, will both support the high street revival by allowing empty commercial properties to be quickly repurposed and reduce the pressure to build on green fields land by making brownfield development easier.


Vowing to speed up the planning process, the Prime Minister said he and the Chancellor have created Project Speed ‘to scythe through red tape and get things done,’ as he revealed costly delays in the process mean that in 2018 we built 2.25 homes per 1,000 people whereas Germany managed 3.6, the Netherlands 3.8 and France 6.8.


‘We will build better and build greener but we will also build faster,’ he said.


The Prime Minister also announced that work will begin to look at how land owned by the government can be managed more effectively and used, for example, for house building, improving the environment and contributing to net zero goals.

In other measures that will boost the construction industry, the Prime Minister also unveiled:


  • A £12bn affordable homes programme that will support up to 180,000 new affordable homes for ownership and rent over the next 8 years.
  • A 1,500 unit pilot of ‘First Homes’: houses that will be sold to first time buyers at a 30% discount which will remain in perpetuity, keeping them affordable for generations of families to own.
  • Funds from the £400m Brownfield Land Fund allocated to the West Midland, Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire, Liverpool City Region, Sheffield City Region, North of Tyne and Tees Valley to support around 24,000 homes.
  • The Home Building Fund to help smaller developers access finance for new housing developments will receive additional £450m boost. This is expected to support delivery of around 7,200 new homes.


The Government is set to publish a Policy Paper this month setting out plans for comprehensive reform of England’s 70-year-old planning system, ‘to introduce a new approach that works better for our modern economy and society’.


In the Autumn, the Government will also publish a National Infrastructure Strategy which will set ‘a clear direction’ on core economic infrastructure, including energy networks, road and rail, flood defences and waste.


Mr Johnson said: ‘We will also build back greener and build a more beautiful Britain. We will protect the landscape with flood defences and plant 30,000 hectares of trees every year creating a new patchwork of woodlands to enchant and re-energise the soul.’


In a further bid to enhance the country’s green credentials, the Prime Minister also announced he would be making additional funding available this year to attract investment in ‘gigafactories’, which mass produce batteries and other electric vehicle components, enabling the UK to lead on the next generation of automotive technologies.


And he revealed that the UK will also aim to produce the world’s first zero emission long haul passenger aircraft, ‘Jet Zero’.


Other measures include:

  • A £40m Green Recovery Challenge Fund to help halt biodiversity loss and tackle climate change through local conservation projects, connecting more people to the outdoors by delivering up to 5,000 jobs.
  • Up to £100m of new funding for research and developing a brand new clean technology, Direct Air Capture (DAC), which captures CO2 emissions directly from the air around us. If successful, DAC technology could be deployed across the country to remove carbon from the air, helping sectors where it’s a challenge to decarbonise such as aviation.