David Bainbridge, director in the planning team at Savills Oxford, looks at  where infrastructure requirements fit within the Government’s proposed planning reforms.  

“You and I come by road or rail, but economists travel on infrastructure.”

A quote attributed to the UK Prime Minister in the 1980s.  Times have changed to the extent that infrastructure, the need for and often the lack of, is discussed weekly at parish and town council meetings throughout the Thames Valley area.  The case being that infrastructure lags behind delivery of new homes.

Today, infrastructure means more than roads and rail track.  Social and environmental infrastructure are vital components of new development.

Place-making is about creating new communities where people live, work and play and this means a range of housing, job creation and, green spaces for recreation and biodiversity.

In some parts of the Thames Valley the basics for new development still need careful planning such as water supplies, sewerage and broadband.  All too often thought about late into the planning process with statutory undertakers having limited resources in the face of ever-increasing demand.

In the Thames Valley area more than 15,000 new homes are to be built each year on average in addition to commercial development across the counties of Berkshire, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire.

Where required for new development it is often the case that infrastructure is paid for, in part at least, by developers through planning obligations and, where in force, through payments under the community infrastructure levy.

To set a framework for such payments, local planning authorities assess the amount and type of new development to be planned for and decide what infrastructure is required under an infrastructure delivery plan.  Whilst not a perfect system, the process provides local accountability and some flexibility to deal with local circumstances.

In the August 2020 White Paper, Planning For The Future, the Government considers that planning obligations do not work well, bring uncertainty and a lack of transparency, and are vulnerable to renegotiation based on developers’ assessment of viability.

To address this the Government proposes to bring in an ‘infrastructure levy’ which would be based upon a flat-rate, value-based charge, set nationally, at either a single rate or at area-specific rates.  This could have a link to the increase in the value of land as a result of securing planning for development.

At a recent conference, the housing minister Christopher Pincher recognised the delivery of affordable housing as infrastructure and stated:

“As many of you know, a key part of our reforms is a radical shake-up of developer contributions so that we can simplify the process time and ensure development pays its way.

“This [the proposed new system] further increases the levy base, delivers more affordable housing and ensures that communities see the vital infrastructure improvements they need: not just road and rail, but schools, playgrounds and clinics too.”

Our understanding of infrastructure has developed to the point where politicians and built-environment professions rightly talk about planning for infrastructure and no longer leave it just for the economists.

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