Proposed legislation is designed to put pressure on government over planning reforms

The Labour Party has introduced a planning bill into parliament designed to force developers to build out homes more quickly once they have received planning permission.

The party said that the Planning and Local Representation Bill, published yesterday, will also “give communities the right to a fair hearing in planning applications”.

Planning approval stamp

One UK planning lawyer said the provisions of what Labour is describing as its “use it or lose it” bill could have huge ramifications for the development and supply of housing if ever enacted.

Labour MP Rachel Hopkins, who used a “10-minute rule” motion to introduce the bill, said it was designed to make planning permission for major housing schemes subject to associated works starting within two years – rather than three as at present.

It is also designed to clip the wings of permitted development rights, by granting local authorities power to apply local design standards for permitted development, as well as to refuse permitted development proposals if “detrimental to the health and wellbeing of an individual or community”.

The bill also aims to give people who have made representations about development plans the right to participate in examination hearings, and would require public consultation on development proposals.

While the Labour Party does not have the numbers in parliament to get legislation through, the move is likely to put pressure on ministers to introduce similar provisions when the government publishes its Planning Bill, now expected at some point this autumn.

Ministers have said in recent weeks that the government is considering the need for use it or lose it-style powers given growing backbench pressure over the issue.

In a recent parliamentary debate on the government’s planning reform, a number of Conservative backbenchers made clear that they believed more needed to be done to force developers to build out sites already given permission, rather than grant new applications.

Hopkins said: “We need a bold plan to tackle the housing crisis, but the government’s planning White Paper will restrict local communities’ ability to shape their own area, allow for the creation of poor-quality housing through permitted development rights and allow developers to sit on planning permissions rather than build desperately needed, truly affordable housing.”

See also: Backbench and voter revolt suggests its time to reform the reforms

Quoting Local Government Association figures that there have been more than a million unused permissions granted in the past decade, Hopkins said the move to two-year planning permissions was designed “to incentivise developers to build”. In contrast, she said, the current system “allows developers to land-bank, which means holding land and selling it in the future when its value rises”.

Katherine Evans, partner at UK law firm TLT, said the provisions in Labour’s new bill could have “huge ramifications for housing development and supply in the UK”. She said that it failed take into account the complexity of housing development, and was based on “mistaken assumptions around ‘land banking’ being the root cause of this perceived delay”.

Evans said that imposing delivery timeframes might cause landowners to “temporarily withhold their land”, further constraining housing supply, and instead called for the government to implement the findings of the Letwin Review.

The Letwin Review, published in 2018, recommended changes to planning rules in order to incentivise a wide range of types and tenures of homes on large sites in order to increase the rate of build out, but found no evidence of land-banking.

In May housing secretary Robert Jenrick told a Home Builders’ Federation conference that the government was going to act on build out rates, because of a public perception of land-banking by major builders.

He said: “We can’t deny that there is a major perception problem – people feel strongly about this. So, we want to take action to ensure builders build out at the pace promised.” However he did not specify the measures the government intends to take.

See also: The evolution of the planning system: a timeline