Tuesday's shock election announcement hinders the pace of much-needed planning reform already playing second fiddle to the looming spectre of Brexit.
Over the next few months a plethora of changes to planning policy had been eagerly anticipated, aimed at facilitating the delivery of hundreds of thousands of new homes promised by the Conservatives in their 2015 Manifesto. Parts of the Housing and Planning Act 2016 (relating to planning obligations and compulsory purchase order confirmation, time limits and compensation) have yet to be given a commencement date and the Government had indicated plans to introduce a number of statutory instruments to implement its "permission in principle" policy. The Neighbourhood Planning Bill will, it is hoped, introduce a new procedure to allow Neighbourhood Plans to be modified and reform the current use of pre-commencement planning conditions with the aim of speeding up implementation of consents. There are also changes on the horizon for the NPPF (previous anticipated as early as summer 2017), as the Government continues to consult on the Housing White Paper.
At the recent BPF POS Planning Conference, hosted by Clyde & Co, keynote speaker Gavin Barwell MP reassured delegates that housing delivery remained a key priority for those in Government despite the resourcing pressures of Brexit. Faced with a fight for re-election, however, it is hard to see how momentum for planning reform can be maintained. Barwell has already begun campaigning for re-election in his constituency of Croydon Central, which he won in 2015 with a tiny majority of just 165 votes. Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid MP, has said he hopes to defend his seat in Bromsgrove, but awaits formal selection by the local Conservative Association. As well as the pressures of campaigning, Barwell will now have to fight for parliamentary time for the Commons to consider amendments to the draft Neighbourhood Planning Bill proposed by the Lords, which was initially tabled for 26 April. Consultation on the Housing White Paper remains open until 2 May, but it is unclear whether the "purdah" period (during which public bodies face restrictions on the type of material they can publish) will fetter the official response, if indeed publication is prioritised ahead of 8 June.
Clyde & Co Planning Partner Stephen Webb says:
I think we can expect progress for planning reform to largely grind to a halt in the short to medium term. Gavin Barwell may manage to get the Neighbourhood Planning Bill onto the statute books before Parliament is dissolved, but the promise of change to the NPPF by summer 2017 is looking increasingly distant".
 House of Commons Briefing Paper: "Planning Reform Proposals", 27 March 2017