June 30, 2020 / 11:00 AM / 11 days ago

Hoping to boost the economy, UK PM Johnson unveils new planning rules

LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson unveiled new planning rules on Tuesday to boost the number of homes and allow commercial premises to be repurposed more easily, part of a package to spur the coronavirus-hit economy.

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson gestures as he visits the Speller Metcalfe's building site for The Dudley Institute of Technology in Dudley, Britain, June 30, 2020. Jeremy Selwyn/Pool via Reuters

Johnson, whose popularity has flagged over his government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, earlier promised to fast track 5-billion pound ($6.14 billion) of infrastructure spending to jump start the economy, which has been largely shut for three months.

Returning to the promises he made at last year’s election, he is targeting much of the spending at those areas in northern and central England, where many traditionally opposition Labour-supporters voted for the governing Conservatives.

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

The changes, which are planned to come into effect by September through changes to the law, include: 

— More types of commercial premises having total flexibility to be repurposed through reform of the Use Classes Order.

— A building used for retail, for instance, would be able to be permanently used as a café or office without requiring a planning application and local authority approval.

— Pubs, libraries, village shops and other types of uses essential to communities will not be covered by these flexibilities.

— 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.

— Work will begin to look at how land owned by the government can be managed more effectively.

Reporting by Elizabeth Piper; editing by William James

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