‘Uncertainty’ seems to be the word on everybody’s lips, taking on 2020’s ‘unprecedented’ with no signs of slowing down. For the property sector in particular, the landscape is littered with volatility across a number of key cost components such as interest rates, inflation, energy, refurbishment, planning, etc.

One thing the current climate does illuminate however, is a mourning for a perceived ‘certainty’ that appears no more. It may be that turbulence is the new normal, and that it will be those who are able to innovate and seize opportunity in the face of insecurity that emerge successful.

The English planning system however is no stranger to such critique, with many property investors familiar with navigating this ever-changing space (successfully or otherwise!). Throughout my career I have adopted the catch-phrase ‘there are no guarantees in planning’ and suspect I am not alone across the profession. Called out by the government as an inefficient, opaque process with poor outcomes by the 2020 White Paper, the foreword from ex-Prime Minister Boris Johnson comprised:

Thanks to our planning system, we have nowhere near enough homes in the right places. People cannot afford to move to where their talents can be matched with opportunity. Businesses cannot afford to grow and create jobs. The whole thing is beginning to crumble and the time has come to do what too many have for too long lacked the courage to do – tear it down and start again’.

With the now-ex Truss administration’s growth agenda sprouting the third attempt at a major planning reform since 2020 alone, how close we are to a ‘new planning system’ remains to be seen in the face of another resignation and new Prime Minister.

The Chief Executive of the Royal Town Planning Institute, Victoria Hills, made the following statement:

The next Leader of the Conservative Party will need an effective and robust planning system to deliver affordable homes, public services and critical infrastructure. However, this can only be achieved by resourcing our planning system sufficiently.

“Planners cannot be expected to do more with less in perpetuity. Our members have shown resilience, and continuous, consistent dedication to their profession, but they are concerned that any continued uncertainty will delay plans and projects their communities need. Planning is one of the most important powers that local authorities have to improve residents’ lives. Without quality planning services, communities will miss opportunities to level up, deliver vital housing, and tackle climate change.

“We will strive to continue working with Government and the new Prime Minster to tackle the housing crisis, work to reach net zero and deliver for communities.”

The potential consequences of the housing crisis and race to environmental resilience being lost amongst confused leadership are unthinkable. With the construction industry playing such a critical role in the country’s economy, what will it take for the planning system to see the meaningful investment required to deliver sustainable urban development?

Where appropriate, the conversion of underutilised or underoccupied buildings into Houses in Multiple Occupation offers a practical step. This affordable housing choice can contribute to making the best use of stock and meeting local and strategic housing needs, as recognised by the Policy H9 of the London Plan 2021. Therefore, Licensing and Planning Enforcement Teams must see sufficient resourcing to ensure consistent compliance and quality control across HMOs, rather than potentially deterring their creation through increased regulatory and cost barriers.

MRTPI MSc Mahsa Khaneghah