Coronavirus: PM tears up planning rules to kickstart post-virus economic recovery

30 June 2020, 10:50 | Updated: 30 June 2020, 13:25

Boris Johnson has announced he intends to tear up property planning rules to kickstart the UK's economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

It comes as he pledged to "build, build, build" by injecting billions of pounds into public projects such as schools, roads, railways and hospitals for an "infrastructure revolution" to create jobs and act fast to fix the economy.

The prime minister said "we cannot continue to be prisoners" of the coronavirus outbreak and that it was vital to plan for the future with new levels of energy and speed.

Mr Johnson said the economy was "between the lightning flash and the thunderclap" and now was the moment to not only emerge from the pandemic, but a chance to "build back better and to build back bolder".

The PM pledged the "most radical reforms" of planning since the Second World War to build "faster, greener and better" and help more people to get onto the housing ladder.

However, he refused to rule out tax rises to pay for his recovery plan.

Significant changes on planning include:

  • A wider range of commercial buildings will be allowed to change to residential use without the need for a planning application
  • Builders will no longer need a normal planning application to demolish and rebuild vacant and redundant residential and commercial buildings if they are rebuilt as homes
  • Property owners will be able to build additional space above their properties via a fast-track approval process, subject to neighbour consultation

Outlining his vision and announcing £5bn in capital investment to accelerate infrastructure projects this year, the prime minister compared his approach to former US president Franklin D Roosevelt, who focused on investment following the Great Depression of the 1920s.

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New regulations will give greater freedom for buildings and land in town centres to change use without planning permission and create new homes from the regeneration of vacant and redundant buildings.

Under the new rules, existing commercial properties, including newly vacant shops, can be converted into residential housing more easily.

The changes, which are planned to come into effect by September through changes to the law, aim to revive high streets which have been heavily impacted by the lockdown.

"We will not be responding to this crisis with what people call austerity," he said. The world has "moved on since 2008".

Mr Johnson insisted his strategy was to build a "motivated and highly skilled workforce" and to boost "jobs, jobs, jobs" - but could not put a number on how many jobs his plan will create.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak would outline the details of the first phase of the recovery next week, he revealed.

Mr Johnson said: "This is a government that is wholly committed not just to defeating coronavirus but to using this crisis finally to tackle this country's great unresolved challenges of the last three decades.

"To build the homes, to fix the NHS, to tackle the skills crisis, to mend the indefensible gap in opportunity and productivity and connectivity between the regions of the UK. To unite and level up.

"To that end we will build, build, build. Build back better, build back greener, build back faster and to do that at the pace that this moment requires."

The PM however warned the dangers of coronavirus have not gone away, likening COVID-19 to a shark "circling" in the water, and said "there will still be some tough times ahead".

He said it would take "effort, nerve and patience" to build the economy "back to health", adding this was the time to be ambitious and "believe in Britain".

"I fully accept that there are going to be economic aftershocks, but there are also big opportunities now to take this country forward, to make investments, to make big changes," he added.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: "Well, the Prime Minister promised a new deal, but there is not much that's new, and, it's not much of a deal.

"We are facing an economic crisis, the biggest we have seen in a generation, and the recovery needs to match that.

"What's been announced amounts to less than £100 per person, and it's the re-announcement of many manifesto pledges and commitments. So, it's not enough."