Planning law changes: all you need to know


2020 has seen its share of new rules, restrictions and regulations impact various sectors across the country, and the housing industry is no stranger to these.

As part of a push to improve infrastructure across the UK, on July 3rd, 2020, the prime minister announced a host of radical planning law changes.

Referred to as the biggest shake up of planning for decades, the planning reform changes are set to dramatically impact the housing landscape post-COVID and beyond.

We’ve compiled all you need to know about the new planning changes, which came into force in September. Here you’ll find the pros and cons of the legislation, and what the housing industry can expect moving forward.  

What are the changes to the planning system?

In a bid to speed up the planning system, make it more flexible and boost construction of attractive UK residential properties, the planning reform includes changes to the following:

  • Permitted development rights
  • Division of land: growth, renewal and protected
  • Automatic approval in growth areas
  • Future proposed changes

Permitted development rights

Under new legislation that came into force in September, a wider range of commercial spaces will now be eligible to be converted into homes without requiring planning permission or approval from local authorities.

Examples of commercial premises include:

  • Offices
  • Shops
  • Cafes
  • Pubs
  • Libraries

Owners will also no longer have to apply to demolish these commercial buildings if they intend to use these for residential purposes. Any free-standing vacant and redundant residential and commercial building will be able to be demolished and rebuilt for residential purposes, following the footprint of the existing building.

Division of land: Growth, renewal and protected

One of the biggest changes to the planning system will now see land be divided into three categories:

Land categorised for growth will see new homes, shops, schools and hospitals allowed to be built automatically, with local authorities unable to reject these building plans.


Councils will also be encouraged to push through and approve plans on land categorised for renewal. This category, largely made up of urban and brownfield sites, will be granted permission in principle, subject to basic checks.   


Protected land, including areas of natural beauty and green belts, will be protected from new building plans.

Future proposed changes

There are a host of further changes out for consultation as part of the 2020 planning reform proposal, which include:

  • All new homes should be carbon neutral by 2050.
  • All new streets should be tree lined.
  • A national charge for developers, to replace the current Section 106 agreements and Community Infrastructure Levy – to fund affordable homes, schools, roads and surgeries.
  • First homes scheme to offer a 30% discount on new builds to first-time buyers, local residents and key workers.

The pros and cons of the 2020 planning reforms

While many of these changes will be appealing to property developers, they have faced criticism from planning officers, architects and housing charities, who have expressed concerns of a new wave of housing which is built quickly and is substandard.

The 2020 planning reforms present a host of pros and cons, including:


  • Long-awaited planning shake-up in the housing industry
  • Greater flexibility for commercial spaces to be converted into residential properties
  • More freedom and appeal for developers
  • Encourages surge of growth in residential housing
  • More housing available for public
  • Encourages growth as part of national recovery
  • Division of land areas to allow more land to be allocated to housing
  • Increased availability of affordable housing
  • Protects areas of natural beauty and green belts


  • Greater scope of permitted development increases risk of poor quality, small housing in commercial spaces
  • Risk that homes might not be well built or sustainable
  • Greater freedom reduces the influence and control of local authorities
  • An increase of housing not located close to vital green spaces

Contact us today to discuss your next property venture and how it might be impacted by these changes.

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