Skip to main content

Autumn Statement 2023: Infrastructure, EV's and changes to planning fees.

The Chancellor has just delivered the Autumn Statement 2023. 

Yet again, we have heard a promise the Government will boost the economy by “removing planning red tape”, but when you dig into the detail, what does this actually mean?

Well, judging from the published statement, it appears to mean:

  • Speeding up the process for consenting infrastructure projects
  • tackling grid delays and other backlogs in the system
  • consulting on new permitted development rights designed to get around provisions in the TCPA 1990; and 
  • introducing ‘fast track’ planning services for commercial applications. 

Planning Fees, PPAs and Local Development Orders

At the dispatch box, the Chancellor appeared to promise that major business-related planning applications could be charged a fee that allowed an LPA to recover all of their costs in processing it - provided that the application was determined promptly. If it were not, then there would be an automatic fee rebate. 

From the text of the relevant paragraph in the Autumn Statement (para 4.23) this ‘prompt service or your money back’ guarantee does not appear to relate to residential planning applications. 

If that were the case:

  •  it would likely only affect a very small proportion of planning applications in any one local planning authority; and 
  •  there could be unintended consequences, as it may result in commercial applications being prioritised over housing schemes, where the planning application fee would not be set on a costs recovery basis and the risk of a refund would be lower. 

However, the exact position on this is not entirely clear, as the ‘policy decisions’ section of the Autumn Statement (see para 5.93 and 5.94) read as follows:

"5.93 Planning system performance reforms – The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities will bring forward plans for authorities to offer guaranteed accelerated decision dates for major developments in England in exchange for a fee, ensuring refunds are given where deadlines are not met and limiting use of extension of time agreements. This will also include measures to improve transparency and reporting of planning authorities’ records in delivering timely decision-making.
5.94  Support for substantial commercial development – The government will incentivise greater use of Local Development Orders to ensure key commercial developments are approved faster."

This would suggest that what is actually being considered is more akin to a ‘compulsory planning performance agreement’ system for all major planning applications, whilst simultaneously trying to speed-up consenting for commercial developments through a wider use of LDOs. It is all a little bit confusing if I am honest!

Electric Vehicles & All things renewable

There is clear recognition in the Autumn Statement of the need to encourage the roll out of electric vehicles and also do something about the speed of grid connections for renewable energy projects. 

We are promised:

  • a consultation on amending the National Planning Policy Framework to ensure that the planning system prioritises the rollout of electric vehicle charging infrastructure, including EV charging hubs. 
  • the introduction of a new permitted development rights to end the blanket restriction on heat pumps one metre from a property boundary in England.
  • full response to the Electricity Network Commissioner’s report on accelerating electricity transmission network build. 
  • proposals on community benefits for electricity transmission infrastructure; and 
  • updated Energy National Policy Statements that will designate low carbon infrastructure as a critical national priority;
  • a joint action plan with Ofgem to reduce the time it takes viable projects to connect to the electricity grid; and 
  •  a study by the National Infrastructure Commission on making the electricity distribution network fit for net zero.

Nutrient Mitigation 

There has also been a promise of more money for nutrient mitigation schemes – to help unblock 40,000 homes that are currently held up by nutrient neutrality issues.

Para 5.194 of the Autumn Statement commits the Government to provide £110 million of funding to support Local Planning Authorities to deliver mitigation schemes to offset nutrient pollution, unlocking planning permissions that are otherwise stalled.

There is little detail as to how this money is to be distributed, however, or how it can actually deliver mitigation schemes on the ground. 

Housing & Permitted Development 

We have been promised yet another consultation on new permitted development rights. This time to allow the conversion of a house into two flats if there are no changes to exterior of the building. 

This will continue a long-running trend of expanding the scope of permitted development rights in England and will add to the eleven planning related consultations that we have had in the last twelve months – most of whom are still awaiting a response. 

It is also a curious permitted development right to consult upon. The reason that planning permission is required to converting a house into two flats in these circumstances is because of an express provision in the TCPA 1990. 

s.55 (3) (a) of the TCPA 1990 currently states that:

"(3)  For the avoidance of doubt it is hereby declared that for the purposes of this section—

(a)  the use as two or more separate dwellinghouses of any building previously used as a single dwellinghouse involves a material change in the use of the building and of each part of it which is so used";

The permitted development right being proposed would appear to directly contradict this express statutory provision. As such, some might think it would be more appropriate to repeal s.55(3)(a) … rather than create a brand-new PD right which was solely designed to undermine its effectiveness.  

In news that is probably more important, but does not appeal quite so strongly to my inner planning nerd, the Autumn Statement also pledges:

  •  £5 million in additional funding for DLUHC’s Planning Skills Delivery Fund for Local Planning Authorities to target application backlogs.
  • £450 million for a third round of the Local Authority Housing Fund to deliver 2,400 new housing units to house Afghan refugees and ease wider housing and homelessness pressures. 
  • a further £2 million to address water scarcity in Cambridge, alongside £3 million to support the Cambridge Delivery Group drive the long-term vision for Cambridge by exploring the case for a development corporation. 
  • an additional £2 million in capacity funding will also be available for Leeds City Council to maximise delivery of new homes; and 
  • Subject to business case approval, £23 million for a bus network to unlock housing in the ‘Docklands 2.0’ as part of the £150 million allocation to London from the Brownfield, Infrastructure and Land Fund.

NSIPs and Infrastructure Planning 

The Government has published its response to the National Infrastructure Commission’s study on infrastructure planning reforms, with measures to return consent times to two and a half years on average. 

That response can be found here and on a very high-level skim read, does seem to commit the Government to at least some action against all of the NIC's six recommendations. 

4.23 Alongside reforms to deliver infrastructure quicker, the government will strengthen the capacity of the planning system to deliver a better service for businesses, including introducing new premium planning services across England
with guaranteed accelerated decision dates for major applications and fee refunds wherever these are not met. These services will improve the existing patchwork
approach of Planning Performance Agreements. The government will also invest £5 million to incentivise greater use of Local Development Orders in England, to end delays for businesses so that key commercial projects secure planning permission faster”