• Daily Telegraph sting on Boles: Planning bonanza on its way….

    22nd March 2013 | News | Claire
  • Property developers have been privately promised that planning laws will be liberalised again within weeks to allow them to begin a house-building boom backed by this week’s Budget.

    Nick Boles, the planning minister, attended a meeting with some of the country’s biggest property developers hours after George Osborne’s speech on Wednesday in which he told them he was prepared for an acrimonious battle with countryside campaigners.

    The Telegraph has obtained a recording of the meeting in which Mr Boles discloses that he is poised to axe the planning permission requirement for many developments. He indicates that the main purpose of a £15.5?billion government package to support homebuyers is to create a building boom.

    The planning minister said he “couldn’t care who owns the bloody things”.

    In the Budget, the Chancellor announced that the Government would offer five-year interest-free loans worth up to 20 per cent of the value of new homes costing less than £600,000. It will also offer £12?billion of guarantees covering mortgages worth more than £120?billion. The schemes are intended to help 644,000 people buy homes over the next three years.

    Within three hours of the announcement, Mr Boles spoke at a reception with senior figures from the property industry hosted by Savills in the heart of Mayfair, central London. He spelt out to the 150-strong audience that further deregulation of the planning system would be introduced, just weeks after the controversial new system of relaxed rules is introduced.

    “Our simple view is that the fundamental idea of the planning system is that property owners should be able to do some things if they want to without asking anyone,” he said. “That’s what, you know, property rights mean.

    “There are things that have impact that is substantial on the community, on neighbours, that then they need to go through a process, and what we want to do is we want to expand the number of things you can do without having to ask for planning permission.”

    Mr Boles said that the Government had already proposed allowing home owners to build larger extensions and to make it easier to convert commercial properties for residential use. Planners have warned that this could damage city centres as business districts.

    “I think we will be looking for more such liberalisations which don’t, never the less, fundamentally change the planning system and which in fact should relieve local authorities of some workload,” Mr Boles said.

    The minister continued: “I will just simply read you a line [from the Budget] to give you a hint of what may be to come. ‘The Government will consult on allowing further flexibilities between use classes to support change of use from certain agricultural and retail uses to residential use to increase responsiveness within the planning system.’ I believe that that might end up being quite significant.”

    Mr Boles also said he was “determined to implement” plans to make it easier to turn commercial premises into residential homes and appeared to identify a date when the changes would be announced. “I’m going to say it now in public because then you can embarrass me if we don’t deliver it and my officials are going to all be writhing in their seats. The 30th of May.”

    The comments come just days before planning rules, which were rewritten to help development, are due to be introduced across England.

    There have been fears of a planning free-for-all because fewer than half of the councils in England have developed local plans which protect them from builders having free rein to build where they like.

    Without a local plan in place authorities will have to use the new National Planning Policy Framework, which is biased towards “sustainable development”, when assessing planning applications, which campaigners say will leave them at risk of “damaging development”.

    Mr Boles told his audience that only if councils had “five years’ supply of immediately developable and deliverable sites” would they “get to make the decisions”. He warned: “And if you haven’t, then you will have to accept that the inspector, reluctantly, will make those decisions and will make those decisions according to the policies in the NPPF and the presumption of sustainable development.”

    Mr Boles said that he was braced for a fight over forcing through more developments.

    Earlier this month Sir Simon Jenkins, the chairman of the National Trust, warned of a “war” between developers and local residents because of the loosening of planning rules.
    “I think that this year is going to be a very, very difficult year in local planning because this is the year when all the tough compromises are going to have to be reached,” said Mr Boles.

    He said that he had taken “a bit of flak” in the past few months, but “it will be nothing compared to the flak that I will have to take over the next few months”.

    “What I’m focused on is ensuring that more gets into the system – and consistently more,” he said. “This is the year when we’re going to flush out those areas which just can’t come up with the sites to meet the five-year supply.”

    Mr Boles admitted that he might lose his job over the outcry, but invited the property professionals to meet up again in a year:

    “And I might by then be a backbencher if the flak’s got really bad. But I hope that we will be able to say to ourselves, actually we’ve got over the worst of it.”

    Mr Boles said he wanted to change the situation where Britain “is still one of the richest countries in the world where fewer people are able to buy a home at all, and fewer people are able to buy it before the age of 30 and fewer people are able to buy it without parental help.”

    He told his audience that Mark Prisk, the housing minister, had “lot of pots of money to help make” major developments work.

    The Telegraph’s Hands Off Our Land campaign persuaded ministers to water down the scale of their initial plans, in the months leading up to the publication of the NPPF in March last year.