Election Thoughts – Tories’ “Blue Belt” thinking on Planning

Written on 14 May 2015

This time last week, no-one expected that David Cameron would walk into No.10 leading a Conservative majority Government. During the campaign little attention was paid to the manifesto as there was a reasonable expectation that there would be too much change after a coalition deal.

Whilst there is no guarantee that the promises will become policy we’ve picked our top five planning related promises in the Conservative Party Manifesto for what the future might bring for the inevitable support for development and growth:

1. No more onshore wind but lots more fracking: public subsidy will end for onshore wind and local people will be given powers to have the final say on whether an application can be approved, so without significant community buy in, onshore wind will falter. Support will be given for the ‘safe development’ of Shale Gas with generous benefit packages for local communities;

2. Encouraging Home Ownership / Help to Buy: more measures to help people buy their own home, many focussed at first time buyers. Objectives to build more affordable homes, including 200,000 Starter Homes to be sold at a 20% discount to first time buyers under the age of 40, and the Help to Buy mortgage guarantee and equity loan scheme would be continued until 2017 and (at least) 2020 respectively. This will not be traditional affordable housing, but discounted market housing.

3. Prioritisation of brownfield development: local authorities will be required to have a brown field register to ensure 90% of suitable brownfield sites have planning permission for houses by 2020. There is mention of a new ‘London Land Commission’ with a mandate to identify and release all surplus brownfield land owned by the public sector. There is a general aspiration to protect the Green Belt, but not so far as to prohibit any development within it;

4. Transport Infrastructure: a response to the Airports Commission’s final report paving the way for expansion of either Heathrow or Gatwick and the promotion of HS2, HS3 and Crossrail 2 (which links London to Surrey and Hertfordshire);

5. Blue Belt: and finally, a new protection by putting in place a network of marine conservation zones to create a “Blue Belt” of safeguarded marine habitats. This is similar to ‘Blue Belts’ proposed around the UK’s 14 overseas territories.

It’s fair to say that this was a softer ‘ready for coalition’ manifesto. Therefore, it will be very interesting to see if these policies will continue to be promoted in their current form or will ‘harden up’ over the next few months.