Viewpoint By Nicola Gooch
This is the UK's first working week outside of the European Union for 45 years. So staring into my crystal ball- what are the next few months likely to hold?
From an EU perspective, the answer is almost certainly 'not much'. We are now in the transition period until the end of the year - so everything stays the same whilst a trade deal is negotiated. Signals from central government are that, after three and a half years of more or less continuous Brexit talk, they would quite like to change the subject. As such it is probably not surprising that we have had a flurry of domestic announcements in the last few days.
Robert Jenrick announced on Friday that we would see the Planning White Paper in the 'first half of the year'. He also announced proposed changes to the NPPF to create a 'fast track for beauty' within the planning system, with well-designed schemes being granted preferential treatment.
Insiders predict a number of other planning proposals announced by the government in recent months are also likely to be included in the White Paper. These include the outcome of the MHCLG review of the impact of office to residential permitted development (PD) rights on housing quality, which may well lead to the curtailing of such rights to some degree. At the same time, other PD rights, such as those allowing upwards extensions to properties, a measure announced at the Tory Party conference last Autumn, are also set to feature. Some mention of the so-called "First Homes" policy, whereby first-time buyers would be eligible for a discount funded via developer contributions, is further expected, as are attempts to simplify the planning system for householders and small developers.
In other news, the Environment Bill is now officially back in parliament and on the agenda - so changes to regulations on air quality, water quality and, of course, mandatory bio-diversity net gain measures for new developments are being considered by parliament. The Government's policy statement shows just how wide ranging the bill is likely to be, particularly given that we are shortly to be losing the EU regulatory regime which governs most of the UK's environmental laws at present.
Given the spate of local plans that have recently been found unsound by PINS and the precarious state of West England Local Plan, which is about to lose the third of its four prospective members - following inspectors concerns over soundness - I would not be surprised if strategic planning was given some attention in the near future.
And with recent announcements over High Speed 2, and the need to boost the northern regions if the Conservatives are going to have any hope of keeping the red wall blue, I would expect infrastructure investment to feature heavily in any new policy announcements made in the coming months. Together with a refreshed focus on the Northern Powerhouse, and revitalising failing high streets, in an attempt to deliver visible change to those 'borrowed' Labour voters.
We are in a brave new world, but in the short term at least, I suspect it is going feel an awful lot like the old one...
This article first appeared in CoStar on 3 February 2020