Planning for the future - what does this mean for development-funded transport infrastructure?

Announced on the 6th August, the Planning White Paper for England makes big promises to modernise what many consider to be an outdated system. Among the proposals, the Government has set out its plans to streamline the Local Plan framework in England, grant Permission in Principle to major developments, use design codes to secure inclusive design and introduce a new ‘Infrastructure Levy’. Kevin Kay, Director for Transport & Engineering, takes a look at what these proposals might mean for the delivery of development-funded transport infrastructure and raises two key questions.

How could Permission in Principle impact Transport Assessments?

The White Paper is proposing to grant Permission in Principle to major developments. Under the current system Local Plans are a means to allocate sites for development; the detailed merits of such proposals are then considered through planning applications. So while the choice of a Local Authorities’ broad spatial strategy will have been evidenced, the transport implications and required mitigation will not all necessarily be known until the application stage.

For smaller developments, that can currently benefit from a Permission in Principle (PiP), there are usually fewer direct transport implications. However, extending this to larger residential developments (10-150 dwellings) could lead to a need for more not fewer technical assessments at the earlier stages to provide the justification that such sites are deliverable. To provide this certainty there could be a need for some form of transport assessment, even as early as the call for sites stage.

A significant evidence base covering transport and infrastructure matters will still be required to define the impacts of strategic sites over 150 dwellings. Given their greater contribution in unlocking and supporting growth, area-wide assessments of cumulative transport impacts would continue to be relevant in providing a sufficient amount of technical detail, including both traffic modelling and matters of sustainable connectivity. In this respect, the extension to PiP will not extend to strategic schemes.

What impact will the new ‘infrastructure levy’ have on transport mitigation requirements?

Under the current system, transport mitigation works required as a result of a development are usually secured through Section 106 agreements or through payments under the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL). The former is variable according to the location and scale of a development’s impacts; the latter requires authorities to keep a record of its infrastructure needs and to apportion costs proportionally.

The White Paper intends to replace these with a new infrastructure levy set at a national level. This would be a fixed proportion of a development’s value based on some as yet undefined threshold, realising the Government’s long-term ambition for land value capture. 

Currently, there is quite a clear link between development, its impacts on local transport conditions, the mitigation required to address that and the associated cost. The new infrastructure levy appears to remove some of this visibility for developers, in particular how this money would be spent, and indeed whether the schemes funded will benefit the future residents/users of the developed sites.

The fact that the levy would be fixed at the time of planning, and only payable upon occupation does provide some clarity to developers on the amount and timing for making such contributions. However, transport tends to be characterised by the requirement for timely interventions and longer leads times for delivery. This is likely to place an increased burden on authorities and/or other transport bodies to commit to transport infrastructure up front, potentially in advance of receiving levy monies. Borrowing against future receipts is also not without its risks.

Should development-specific off-site transport works be identified through a Transport Assessment, these will tend to be delivered through a Section 278 agreement. Where such works are identified, should these benefit from a degree of levy ‘off-set’? In other cases, there may be implications for how an authority could continue employing Grampian-style conditions to control delivery rates ahead of transport scheme implementation.

There may also be an issue reconciling the infrastructure levy with the Government’s ambition to address inequality and 'level up’ under performing parts of the UK. For example, land values in the North of England are often significantly less than in the South-East, but are often also the areas where investment in infrastructure can have the greatest benefit. In these areas, will the receipt from the levy (based on land value capture) fall short of the required level for delivering meaningful transport infrastructure improvements, without other avenues of financial support?

The industry has been grappling with the best means for securing transport investment from new developments however, far from simplifying matters, an approach based on land-value has the potential to dilute the fundamental link between effect and mitigation; or complicate the delivery of the infrastructure necessary to support economic growth.

The industry has been grappling with the best means for securing transport investment from new developments however, far from simplifying matters, an approach based on land-value has the potential to dilute the fundamental link between effect and mitigation, or at least it could introduce some uncertainty on the deliverability of the very infrastructure which developments rely upon.


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