MHCLG to ‘fast track’ planning regime for public buildings

Department says new schools and hospitals will be delivered more quickly through 'more streamlined' process
Credit: PA

By Jim Dunton

04 Dec 2020

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick has unveiled planning reforms to speed up the delivery of public service buildings, such as new schools, colleges, hospitals and prisons by clamping down on the time councils have to consider applications.

Under the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government proposals, local planning authorities will need to prioritise applications that relate to public service buildings and comply with a legal duty to decide on major schemes within 10 weeks. MHCLG said some planning applications for big public-service proposals were currently left waiting “for many months” without a decision.

The goverment has said it has plans to deliver 40 new hospitals by 2030, and this week infrastructure specialist Emma-Jane Houghton took up her post as the Cabinet Office’s commercial director responsible for the programme. Houghton previously worked for the army’s engineering advisory group and is a former commercial delivery director at Heathrow Airport.

The government has so far committed £2.7bn of funding to building projects at six hospital trusts, some of which are refurbishments or extensions rather than new hospitals. Funding for 34 further project proposals will be allocated later, health secretary Matt Hancock said at the time of last year's announcement.

Jenrick’s fast-track proposals also allow for public service buildings to have bigger and taller extensions without the need for full planning permission.

At present, existing extension rights for schools, colleges, universities, and hospitals are limited to a maximum of 25% of the gross floorspace of the original buildings, with a maximum cap of 100 square metres, or 250 square metres in the case of schools. The height of new buildings is also limited to 5 metres.

MHCLG’s proposals, which are now being consulted on, would allow public-service buildings to expand their facilities by up to 25% of the footprint of the current structure or 250 square metres, whichever is greater. The permissible height for extensions will also rise to six metres, excluding any roof-top plant, unless the proposals are within 10m of the site boundary.

The department said the move would allow greater flexibility for those sites that have enlarged or developed additional buildings over time and flexibility for those premises with a smaller footprint.

Jenrick said the new fast-track for public service buildings would make it “simpler and quicker” to deliver the schools and hospitals the Conservative Party promised in its 2019 general election manifesto.

“We expect these vital buildings to be approved in weeks, not months and are reforming the planning system so it works for the NHS, our schools and other vital public services,” he said.

“Like the rest of the planning reforms, these changes will also help to protect and create thousands of jobs in the construction industry.”

Last week’s Spending Review allocated £20bn for the development of new homes. MHCLG said the properties would be delivered through a fast track planning process instead of full planning applications. But it said the homes would still be subject to high standards to ensure they provide for adequate natural light and meet space standards.

The department’s latest consultation is also seeking views on the introduction of new rights to allow a range of commercial, business and service-use class buildings to be converted into residential use.

MHCLG said the rights would provide much needed new homes across the country, give clarity and planning certainty, and attract footfall to high streets that new residents will bring.

Last week, official statistics on net additions to England's housing stock showed that England had 243,770 extra homes in 2019-20 compared with the year before. Around 27,000 of those were so-called change-of-use properties, converted from former offices or other buildings.

MHCLG said the net-additions figure was the highest number delivered in 33 years.

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