In his Fiscal Statement on Friday 23 September, the Chancellor introduced Investment Zones, a new planning and development vehicle intended to ‘drive growth and unlock housing across the UK by lowering taxes and liberalising planning frameworks to encourage rapid development and business investment’.
The Government is in discussion with 38 local authorities to establish investment zones in England and intends to work closely with the devolved administrations to deliver investment zones in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Key features of investment zones are:
- Lower taxes – businesses in designated sites will benefit from time-limited tax benefits.
- Accelerated development – there will be designated development sites to both release more land for housing and commercial development, and to support accelerated development. The need for planning applications will be minimised and where planning applications remain necessary, they will be radically streamlined. Development sites may be co-located with, or separate to, tax sites, depending on what makes most sense for the local economy.
- Wider support for local growth – subject to demonstrating readiness, Mayoral Combined Authorities hosting Investment Zones will receive a single local growth settlement in the next Spending Review period.
But investment zones are not necessary the panacea that we need to spearhead regeneration, according to experts at the planning consultancyBoyer (part of Leaders Romans Group).
One key area that will concern local residents is community involvement in the planning process.
Matt Clarke, Head of Boyer’s Colchester office explains: “Today’s announcement demonstrates Liz Truss’s commitment to ‘rip up red tape that’s holding back housebuilding’. But it shouldn’t be forgotten that the pledge, in full, was to, ‘rip up red tape that’s holding back housebuilding and give more power to local communities’. How the investment zones policy sits with the second part of the sentence is less clear.”
There are also concerns about the scrapping of environmental regulations. As Matt says, “Green planning laws will be ripped up’ in these areas, including those relating to protected species. I can’t believe the intention would suddenly be to turn a blind eye and allow harm to take place. Is the Environment Act and the requirement for a minimum 10% biodiversity net gain, yet to be implemented, to be ignored in these areas?
“Perhaps we should welcome the intention to address some of the issues that holding up the delivery of housing, such as nutrient neutrality (which is currently stalling housebuilding up and down the country) although, significantly, the solution to this important issue has yet been identified. As ever the devil will be in the detail.”
Karen Charles, Head of Boyer’s Wokingham office also expresses concerns in relation to sustainability: “The removal of environmental mitigation may be welcomed by some developers, but there a growing sense of obligation that we must mitigate our impact on the environment. And no other than the new King is among those who are increasingly concerned about environmental issues. It will be interesting to see whether he looks to influence the shift in policy which conflicts so starkly with the Environment Act.”
The Environment Act is not the only policy with which investment zones will clash. Philip Allin, Director in Boyer’s London office explains: “Clearly investment zones are a key plank of the Government’s pivot to a low tax system. But my main concern is whether these zones will endure in the medium/long term to give market confidence. Some of today’s new policies conflict directly with the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill. So is the Bill on hold, pending substantial changes, destined for the policy dustbin?
“Contrary to its intention, this change in Government priorities, in adding another dimension to the planning system, will add to further uncertainty and delay.”
A new Planning Bill is now expected in the spring, at which point the answers to some of these questions may be known.