Neutrality, BNG and political challenges discussed at HBF Planning Conference 2023
The industry is waiting to hear what the government will do next to address nutrient neutrality, after its plans to scrap nutrient neutrality rules were defeated in the House of Lords last week, the Home Builders Federation’s James Stevens said today (September 20).
Speaking at HBF’s Planning Conference in Birmingham, Stevens, HBF’s director for cities, said that after the “hammering” the government’s amendments to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill (LURB) received in parliament - the proposals voted down by the Labour party, a group of Conservatives and other parties - it had “less appetite” to seek its changes through the current legislative route.
He noted it was likely ministers had “run out of parliamentary time”. And parliamentary procedure would not allow the amendments to be reintroduced in the House of Commons as part of the LURB’s final movements.
“We were hoping the amendments would go through,” James stated. “But we were never naïve about the difficulties the government would have in getting them through.” He said the government should “perhaps” have chosen a different route to rectifying the neutrality problem.
The Labour party had “nailed their colours to the mast” in opposing the government’s plans, Stevens said. Labour “thought there was another way to do this”, tabling an amendment to use the Grampian condition, Stevens reminded the audience. This would allow housebuilders to begin construction before mitigation is established but with homes occupation restricted until measures are in place.
But Stevens said the “starting point” to an alternative approach should be “to look at the supply of mitigation [currently available] and the number of homes delayed.”
The conference also included panel discussions on biodiversity net gain (BNG), the challenges facing planning officers, how to build the right homes in the right places, the politics of planning and making the positive case for development.
The BNG panel concentrated on the opportunities and challenges of the incoming legislation to achieve 10% BNG on sites, and the guidance the industry was still awaiting. Panel member Mark Skilbeck from Taylor Wimpey said it was “all of our responsibility to leave nature in a better position”, stating that BNG was “not new to the development industry”.
But there were “gaps” to achieving the requirements in terms of “resources, skills and training. BNG is a specialism,” Skilbeck said. And, the panel acknowledged, the new requirements were especially challenging for SMEs.
The industry was still awaiting secondary legislation for BNG, the panel noted. Government recognised housebuilders needed “access” to this, said Natural England’s Nick White. “Hopefully we’ll see this coming quite quickly.”
building the right homes in the right places, a national homes target was still
necessary, stated Turley’s Antony Pollard. “Not having a target fundamentally
weakens the ability to achieve.”
But, countered Tetlow King Planning’s Annie Gingell, “it’s less about building 300,000 homes and more about what types of home are we building.” Housing, she said, should reflect the tenure and house type needs of areas.
Planning officers were working in “chaos” thanks to the uncertainties of the planning system, stated Cat Hartley of Blaby District Council, speaking on the planning officers panel. “We’ve worked in uncertain periods before, but I’ve never known this [level of uncertainty] in terms of national planning.”
And on the politics of planning, the country was “living in a crisis of democracy” with politicians’ perceptions of new homes, according to Landmark Chambers’ Hashi Mohamed.
Other panel speakers included Strategic Land Group’s Paul Smith, Vistry’s Andrew Taylor and the Planning Advisory Service’s Shelly Rouse, who also presented on pre-apps and planning performance agreements.