Snapdragon’s Rebekah Paczek reports on the latest policy amendments proposed by DCLG

Quote of the Day:

 Ye sordid prostitutes have you not defil’d this sacred place, and turn’d the Lord’s temple into a den of thieves, by your immoral principles and wicked practices? Ye are grown intolerably odious to the whole nation; you were deputed here by the people to get grievances redress’d, are yourselves gone! So! Take away that shining bauble there, and lock up the doors.

Oliver Cromwell Speech on the Dissolution of the Long Parliament

20th April 1653.


Just when you thought it was safe to put your toe back in the planning waters, DCLG decides to have a pre-election clear out and found a few forgotten about consultation responses and policies at the back of the school cupboard.

With Parliament being dissolved on Monday in advance of the General Election we will be spared the farce that is PMQs for a little while and concentrate on the the pantomime that politics has become in the run up to the election. However, it also means that departments suddenly realise they need to push out some policy which should have been done a while ago – usually motivated by the whip cracking of departing ministers who are keen to be seen to have delivered on policy commitments.

DCLG has done itself proud shoving out a raft of policy amendments to play voter bingo with:

  • Crackdown on unauthorised development in the greenbelt – yes folks, that would mean traveller and gypsy sites. That’s a big tick in the election box in some key constituencies and one in the eye for UKIP.
  • Publication of the initial Starter Homes Guidance – this is the one where David Cameron announced that 200,000 new starter homes would be built on brownfield land and sold at a discount. DCLG have actually begun to put some policy behind this soundbite. Apparently homes will be built on under-used commercial or industrial land, which is not currently designated for housing (critically windfall sites and not part of the 5 year housing land supply) and will not be subject to S106 or CIL. No word as to whether the vast amounts of under-used brownfield land in the greenbelt would be eligible (unlikely before an election) but it is a good tick in the election box for those ‘bank of mum and dad’ voters who think brownfield can never mean greenbelt and who are keen for homes to be built just not too near them. It also helps all those people rushing out to get their Help-to-Buy ISAs. However, with a likely price point of around £400-£450K for a starter home in London it isn’t really first-time buyer territory.

  • Extension of PDR to storage sheds and casinos but no extension of office to resi beyond 2016. At least government appears to have listened to people who know what they are talking about somewhere down the line.
  • Relaxing change of use criteria on the High Street to other commercial uses, reducing red tape for some small businesses.
  • Small sites of 10 homes or less to be exempt from zero carbon commitments – a tick in the small builder election box and an attempt to shoot the Labour fox to open up the market to smaller house builders.
  • Speeding up of S106 to be completed within specified timescales and with greater transparency about how it is spent. Designed to ensure that consented schemes are delivered or sites recycled. Further guidance to follow.
  • Increasing the planning hurdles for solar farms – not remotely aimed at rural constituencies, particularly those with large ‘Vote UKIP’ billboards across farmland. At the same time, there will be a twenty-fold increase in the amount of solar that can go onto the roofs of non-domestic buildings such as warehouses and offices without having to submit a full planning application, subject to strict safeguards to protect local amenity.
  • Responsibility for architecture to move from DCMS to DCLG, effective immediately.
  • Consultation on extending the role of Business Improvement Districts – this will appeal to a range of small businesses and locally-based initiatives.
  • An intention to publish guidance on supporting the Build to Rent sector and improving the ability of CIL to deliver affordable homes. If this guidance were to come out pre-election it could be quite a positive. But at the moment it is more talk, less action.

All in all, DCLG have had a busy week. We think this is all for now but we can’t be sure. One thing that is certain is that Captain Pickles will be vacating his chair at the end of this week and who knows who will be sitting in his seat come May 8th (or whenever we actually get a new government, which could be significantly longer than 24 hours post election if the polls are anything to go by). It will almost certainly be a new hand at the tiller whether Conservative, Labour or A.N.Other.

We will also have to wait and see whether a comical note has been left by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, as was the case when Liam Byrne left a note in 2010 declaring that there was ‘no money left’. However, incumbent Danny Alexander and his yellow lego-style budget box doesn’t come across as the humorous type – certainly not of the ‘laughing with’ as opposed to ‘laughing at’ sort anyway.

Next up will be our fascinating review of manifestos as and when they appear – we will read them so you don’t have to, although the UKIP one may well be worth it for the entertainment value…