The chancellor’s spring statement on the 13th March sanctioned yet another round of planning reforms with a focus on housing delivery. As with previous budgets, it portrayed a striking lack of overall ambition and presented a package of reforms which promote incremental and fragmented approaches to housing delivery.

A strong theme of the statement was deregulation, with expansion of permitted development given a green light despite near universal rebuke. It is true that government have delayed implementation of the proposed right-to-demolish-and-rebuild without full planning permission, so there is at least a glimmer of hope that the department is listening. However, the fact remains that there is still a wide gulf between the rhetoric of ministers on good design and this continued drive for housing numbers at almost any cost.

Overall, the statement was most striking in what it didn't say. There was no sign of the kind change in approach to scale development which might grasp the opportunity of new and highly sustainable places. The approach to the Oxford-Cambridge arc remains remarkably diffuse, and while many of the ideas being developed may well be worthwhile, the overall delivery and—crucially—lack of public support for proposals remains completely unresolved.

The commitment to produce a green paper to speed up the planning system continues a long trend of detailed meddling while ignoring the key strategic issues both of the purpose of planning and the strategic delivery of growth and resilience across the whole nation. If the green paper were to focus on the proper resourcing of the system then this would clearly be valuable, although there is plainly no need for a green paper to solve this self-evident problem.

The statement committed to further consultation on ‘innovative’ planning tools for securing the future of high streets, although most of these, including through compulsory purchase orders and local development orders, already exist but are limited by a lack of skills and cash in local government.

The government’s response to the Letwin review was muted, with a commitment to introduce additional planning guidance to support housing diversification on large sites for the purpose of meeting a diverse range of housing needs. This falls significantly short of implementing the more muscular approach to delivery by public authorities set out in the review.

The government did commit to introducing a ‘Future Homes Standard’ by 2025, promising to future-proof new-build homes with low-carbon technology. A wider strategy for how we respond to the climate emergency was, however, notably absent. 

Finally, the statement announced that it will publish of a comprehensive national infrastructure strategy to respond to the recommendations in the National Infrastructure Commission’s ‘National Infrastructure Assessment’ last year. We can only hope that this document will be a genuine spatial response to the full range of challenges facing the nation.