Fiona Sawyer, Professional support lawyer, planning, London

IPA Annual Report on Major Projects – end of the road for planning reform?

A developer client recently commented “Because what we need now is more uncertainty, right?”, or words to that effect. Uncertainty about what? Planning reform. Because, in spite of “planning” apparently holding back housing and development for years, stymieing the ambitions of renters to get on the property ladder and of many more to have a home they can call their own, we are no further forward in terms of certainty about planning reform in England. Why does certainty matter? To plan for which development proposals to take forward, developers need certainty about the planning system. To plan effectively for the future of their area, planning authorities need certainty about the planning system. Having spent years being told that “planning” is at the root of the evil that is the housing crisis and that the system must change, what certainty is there about future planning reform?

The Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA) seems certain that the government’s current proposals for planning reform are going nowhere.

The IPA recently published their Annual Report on Major Projects 2021-22 – their yearly report to the Cabinet Office and HM Treasury on progress across the Government Major Projects Portfolio (GMPP). The purpose of the GMPP is to “[ensure] robust oversight of the government’s most complex and strategically significant projects and programmes“. The IPA independently scrutinises these projects and programmes. It monitors progress, identifies risks and shares insights with the government for this purpose. The Annex to the IPA’s annual report rates projects on a colour scale from green through to red indicating the IPA’s view of the likelihood that the project will achieve its aims and objectives, and whether it will be on time and on budget. “Green” indicates successful delivery, on time and on budget, “red” indicates that successful delivery “appears to be unachievable” and there are various shades in between – “amber/green” indicates that “successful delivery appears probable“, “amber” that “successful delivery appears feasible but significant issues already exist“, and “amber/red” that “successful delivery of the project is in doubt, with major risks or issues apparent in a number of key areas“.

Planning reform has been rated by the IPA for the first time this year. On the data made available to it by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, the IPA has rated planning reform as “red”. Not “amber”, nor even “amber/red”, but “red”. The IPA’s assessment of the government’s proposals for planning reform is that they now appear to be unachievable.

Many of us suspected that the government’s programme for planning reform was at risk once Boris Johnson resigned as Prime Minister and the Conservative Party leadership election kicked off. However, in predicting the end of the current planning reform proposals, this announcement goes further than might have been expected. Whatever its faults, the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill finally spelt out what proposals for reforming the planning system in England we could expect to be taken forward. Having spent years second-guessing exactly what planning reform might mean, clarity at least was welcome, whether or not there was enough detail or whether it was agreed that the proposals would have the impact intended.

The fact that reform again seems to be up in the air is unhelpful, to say the least. Everyone in the development industry, indeed everyone hoping for a genuinely affordable home, needs certainty about what changes to expect. Recent years have demonstrated how damaging piecemeal reform can be – the introduction of blanket permitted development rights is a case in point. We must hope that the government takes heed of the IPA’s assessment and either recommits to current proposals for planning reform or openly acknowledges abandonment, for now at least.

 

Source: Herbert Smith Freehills

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