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Planning Predictions in 2021

Back at the end of 2019 – which already feels like a far-off world – there was increasing confidence in the planning sector after the general election. But, following the outset of the pandemic in 2020, last year was one of total transformation in how we live and work, which is all set to impact how we plan and develop for the future.

Now, at the start of 2021, with a Brexit deal confirmed and multiple vaccines available, there is a real prospect of some normality returning in the second half of this year. The question is, what do we as an industry need to do to help communities thrive following a year of disruption, and address the changing way people now want to live following the pandemic?

To help answer this, I have shared my six predictions for the planning and development sector in 2021, around how the industry will adapt and change in a post-COVID world.

2021 planning and development sector predictions
  1. We’ll see a post-COVID recovery in the second half of the year
    Despite starting the year in national lockdown, the current roll out of the vaccination programme is giving us confidence for the future. This will enable restrictions to be eased, helping parts of the economy rebound in Q3 and Q4.

    The housebuilding industry stayed resilient throughout the second half of 2020 and, given that increased confidence, we can expect to see continued growth in the sector. According to recent Government statistics, the number of new homes started between July and September 2020 increased by 111% on the previous quarter.

    An additional 45,000 homes were completed in the same period, an increase of 185% on the previous quarter – showing a positive step towards recovery and growth in the housebuilding sector that we can expect to continue in the second half of 2021.

  2. Local plans will have to change to reflect our new ways of living
    How we live and work has changed for good. Local plans must now adapt to find a new vision for our towns and cities, post-pandemic that reflect the new way we want to live. While long-term working from home may have been an rarity in the past, it’s now here to stay, with an estimated 34% of workers confirming they will continue to work from home full-time.

    A further 22% will be splitting their time between the office and home – meaning our town centres will need less space for offices. That, in turn, is likely to affect the services that go along with them, such as food-to-go stores and coffee shops. Instead there is likely to be a much greater range of uses that we are accustomed to seeing in town centres, including more educational and health services as well as a greater mix of housing. Local plans will also have to allocate land for housing with more space, which has

  3. Planning White Paper reforms may not simplify the planning system
    The Planning White Paper set out by the Government last year laid out ‘radical reforms’ designed to streamline and modernise the planning process. But it lacked the detail needed to help local authorities adopt these changes quickly. The reforms include a review of housing targets, land use categorisation, local plans, design codes, developer contributions, affordable housing, and digitalisation – all changes which are challenging and will need time to implement.

    The government has already back tracked on some of its proposals and as a result, we’ve seen councils delay work; therefore, real change is unlikely to be put into action until after this year’s local elections, and reforms will move slowly.

  4. The distribution of housing targets will continue to be an issue
    After the Government’s initial housing target formula was met with criticism, its revised formula will not result in the step-change in housing delivery that is required. It doesn’t appear to address the desire many feel to move out of cities and densely populated areas due to flexible working.

  5. Continued digitalisation will make planning more engaging
    Thanks to the pandemic and enforced home working, we have already seen rapid adoption of digital technology in the planning sector and development industry. Planning committees, inquiries, hearings and community engagement will continue to happen virtually, which should increase efficiency in the sector.

  6. Brexit won’t really affect the planning sector
    Having a deal confirmed has taken away some of the uncertainty around the Brexit transition this year. Although this will present several challenges for the economy and the development sector, there should be less uncertainty and more potential investment opportunities.

While the potential obstacles are something to keep in mind, particularly concerning changes in legislation around working rights or employment, changes to the way we want to live and work in a post-COVID world are likely to impact the planning sector and development more than Brexit.

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