On 22nd November, Jeremy Hunt, The Chancellor of the Exchequer, delivered the annual Autumn Statement, which encompassed a range of planning reforms, as well as an announcement of a new housing quarter for Cambridge. Here, Adam Tuck, Head of the Planning Division at Cheffins gives his view. 

"It is great news that the government is looking to positively invest in Cambridge, and help provide the vast numbers of new houses so desperately needed locally. However, we have a major issue in Cambridgeshire with the shortage of drinking water, which is holding up progress on the Local Plan. Until the severity of this issue is solved, the Cambridge Quarter stands no chance of progressing. The idea is to provide upmarket and quality housing for those working in the tech, AI and life sciences sector predominantly, but with a significant level of affordable housing also included. There are currently planning applications for 9,000 new homes and 300,000 m2 of research and commercial space which are unable to be determined in the Greater Cambridge area alone due to drinking water constraints, so the Cambridge Quarter will be part of a long queue of permissions waiting to be granted. There is no doubt that demand in Cambridge is huge, for both housing and for commercial property. However, these plans are certainly being met with some cynicism in the market. Aspirational announcements are great, but the government needs to think really carefully about how this will be delivered, and how it will form part of the larger, overarching levelling up agenda for the nation. It is clear recognition of the importance of Cambridge and the surrounding region to the UK economy, and even globally, but without wider context and meticulous planning, there will be questions raised over its viability.

Mr Hunt’s plan to refund planning fees should councils not work fast enough will be welcomed by the planning industry, which for too long has been hindered by the lack of urgency in planning departments of local authorities throughout the UK. This should force councils to work collaboratively with planners, agents and developers, and hopefully ought to help speed up the rate of permissions. However, the danger here is that councils may well just refuse applications, and more could end up going to appeal – dragging the process out even further. Local authorities won’t want to miss their targets, and I could imagine the rate of refusals going up, only adding further frustration. Many consecutive governments have tried to fix the broken planning system with various different ideas, however, increasing the refusal rate will simply add fuel to the fire, so it will be interesting to see how this new reform plays out in practice. On nutrient neutrality, this has been the watchword of the planning system for around two or three years now, mainly impacting the residential sector in southern England. Many local authorities have already, or are very close to finding solutions to mitigating nutrient neutrality issues, so the funding from the government is somewhat too little too late.

Regarding the planning new permitted development right to convert a house into two dwellings without planning permission, this is a great way to deliver more housing quickly, however it would need to be considered how doing this would impact the setting, neighbours and amenities. This could work for some types of property, but a one size fits all approach really would not work here and I am doubtful that it would enhance the values of the buildings converted. Time will tell if this idea is eventually approved, however, I believe this will have minimal impact on the planning and residential property sectors."

For further information, contact the Cheffins Planning Division, or Adam Tuck directly on adam.tuck@cheffins.co.uk