Sabah Siddiq, associate solicitor in Blandy & Blandy’s planning & environmental law team, discusses the possible impact of the Government’s Growth Plan.
What Does the Growth Plan Mean for Development and Infrastructure?
On September 23 the Government published its Autumn mini-Budget titled The Growth Plan 2022. It contains several measures that will have an impact on development and infrastructure, considered below.
The Growth Plan aims is to have Investment Zones across the UK to boost growth and deliver housing by relaxing planning requirements. The Government aims to do this by working with the devolved administrations. The Investment Zones across UK will benefit from:
- Lower taxes.
- There will be designated development sites to deliver growth and housing.
- Planning applications will be streamlined, and individual sites will be looked at to see what specific measures are needed to unlock the growth, which could mean disapplying EU laws where appropriate.
- Wider support for local growth through control over local growth funding and the Mayoral Combined Authorities hosting Investment Zones will receive single local growth settlement.
Specified sites in England will also benefit from a range of tax incentives in relation to business rates, enhanced capital allowance, enhanced structures and building allowance, employer National Insurance contributions relief and Stamp Duty Land Tax.
These tax incentives will be time limited for a period of 10 years. The detail regarding the tax incentives and the level of deregulation and the streamlined mechanism for securing planning permission will be in the primary legislation, which is to follow.
The Government intention is to deliver the Investment Zones in partnership with upper tier local authorities and mayoral combined authorities in England, who will then work in partnership with their districts. Individual areas will be responsible for putting forward sites and demonstrating their potential impact on economic growth, including by bringing more land forward and accelerating development.
The Growth Plan goes on to say that the Government is in early discussions with 38 mayoral combined authorities and upper tier local authorities who have already expressed an initial interest in having a clearly designated, specific site within their locality. A full list of these 38 authorities can be found in Annex A of the Growth Plan.
Acceleration of priority of major infrastructure projects
The Growth Plan also refers to accelerating priority major infrastructure projects, such as energy, transport, and telecommunications. It refers to the planning system being ‘too slow and fragmented’ and states that the delays are in part due to ‘complex patchwork of environmental and regulatory rules, some of which are retained EU law’. The Government wants to reform and streamline these arrangements to promote growth while ensuring that the environmental outcomes are protected. The Government intends to accelerate the process for priority of major infrastructure projects through the new Planning and Infrastructure Bill, which will include the following:
- reducing the burden of environmental assessments
- reducing bureaucracy in the consultation process
- reforming habitats and species regulations
- increasing flexibility to make changes to a development consent order (DCO) once it has been submitted
The Growth Plan further sets out sector specific changes to accelerate delivery of infrastructure, which includes bringing onshore wind planning policy in line with other infrastructure projects, which will allow projects to be deployed more easily. It is noted in the Growth Plan that it can take up to four years to get consent for offshore wind farms through planning process and that no consent has been received since 2015 for an onshore wind farm.
Another change proposed by the Government is prioritising the delivery of national policy statements for energy, water resources and national networks, and of a cross- Government action plan for reform of the nationally significant infrastructure planning system.
The Growth Plan also suggests reforms to accelerate roads delivery, including by consenting more through the Highways Act 1980 and by considering options for changing the judicial review system to avoid claims which cause unnecessary delays to delivery.
A list of priority major infrastructure projects has been released alongside the mini-Budget statement Annex B of the Growth Plan 2022. Ultimately the focus of reforms is on acceleration of infrastructure decision-making and development.
This is not the first time that the Government has tried to streamline and accelerate the planning process to drive growth of the economy and deliver much needed housing.
It remains to be seen, whether the proposed changes to the planning system through the introduction of Investment Zones and the changes to accelerate the major priority infrastructure projects and other sector specific areas such as energy, water resources and national networks will in fact deliver what the Growth Plan states it intends to do.
As they say, the devil will be in the detail, which will be set out in the primary legislation, policy and guidance that the Government will bring forward in the coming months.
For further information or legal advice, please visit www.blandy.co.uk.
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