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Photo: Russell Jacobs.

Government proposes radical reform of planning system

The government has launched a consultation on its proposals for the radical reform of the planning system in England. HOT has asked for the views of a wide range of parties – MP Sally-Ann Hart and Conservative councillors, Hastings Borough Council, the local Liberal Democrat and Green parties, a local developer, Gemselect, and Hastings Urban Design Group. This is a root-and-branch reform, backed by an 84-page white paper, so before we publish their responses, here is a summary of what is proposed. Nick Terdre reports, photos by Russell Jacobs.

In his foreword to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’s  white paper, Planning for the Future, prime minister Boris Johnson sets the tone for what is to follow, writing that the planning system in England is “outdated and ineffective,” and the reason why “we have nowhere near enough homes in the right places.”

He therefore proposes, “radical reform unlike anything we have seen since the Second World War…a  whole new planning system for England…One that is simpler, clearer and quicker to navigate, delivering results in weeks and months rather than years and decades.”

The new system will “actively encourage[] sustainable, beautiful, safe and useful development rather than obstructing it,” making it “harder for developers to dodge their obligations to improve infrastructure and open[ing] up housebuilding to more than just the current handful of massive corporations.” It will also give people a “greater say over what gets built in your community.”

At the heart of the proposed reforms is the Local Plan, which is the foundation stone of the planning system. Although it is a statutory requirement, only 50% of local authorities actually have one (Hastings has a plan which it is currently reviewing).

According to the white paper, the principal players in the planning system have lost public trust: it cites a recent poll which found that only seven per cent of respondents trusted their local council to make decisions about large scale development that would be good for their local area, while developers and local authorities were distrusted by 49 per cent and 36 per cent respectively.

Shortcomings

Shortcomings in the planning system mean that not enough homes are being built, especially in those places where the need for new homes is the highest. Adopted local plans, where they are in place, provide for 187,000 homes per year across England – not just significantly below the government’s ambition for 300,000 new homes annually, but also lower than the number of homes delivered last year (over 241,000).

Last year’s result represented a 30-year high, and shows that the government has made significant progress in recent years in increasing house building, the white paper says.

The government proposes to simplify and streamline the development of local plans – it wants to see them reduced to one third of their current length and produced in 30 months rather than the seven years which it says they take at present. Plans should be visual and map based, produced using digital technology. They will be produced to a standard template provided by the government, and incorporate locally produced design codes.

In the reformed plan land will be allocated to one of three categories:

  • Growth areas suitable for substantial development
  • Renewal areas suitable for some development, and
  • Protected areas where development is restricted.

The plan will be based on a core set of standards and requirements for development – outline approval for development will be automatically secured for forms and types of development specified in the plan. The role of the planning authority is thus substantially reduced and the time taken for processing an application decreased.

Less voice, more voice

The voice of local residents in commenting on applications is also to be reduced. “We will streamline the opportunity for consultation at the planning application stage, because this adds delay to the process and allows a small minority of voices, some from the local area and often some not, to shape outcomes,” the white paper says.

But there is intended to be greater opportunity for citizens to participate in the development of the local plan: “Residents will be able to engage in a much more democratic system that is open to a wider range of people whose voice is currently not heard,” using their smartphones to submit their views on local plans and design codes as they are developed.

Communities will also be able to contribute to the planning process through Neighbourhood Plans – “since these became part of the system in 2011, over 2,600 communities have started the process of neighbourhood planning to take advantage of the opportunity to prepare a plan for their own areas – and over 1,000 plans have been successfully passed at referendum.”

It is intended to make it easier to develop neighbourhood plans and encourage their further use, perhaps even extend their use to smaller areas such as individual streets.

The government wishes to encourage better design – and beauty – in our buildings and in the autumn will publish a National Model Design Code to supplement the National Design Guide published last year.

Role in combating climate change

The planning system will also contribute to efforts to combat climate change and achieve the government’s target of net-zero carbon by 2050. Ambitious improvements are aimed at in the energy efficiency standards for buildings. “From 2025, we expect new homes to produce 75-80 per cent lower CO2 emissions compared to current levels. These homes will be ‘zero carbon ready’, with the ability to become fully zero carbon homes over time as the electricity grid decarbonises, without the need for further costly retrofitting work.”

The process for securing developer contributions to affordable housing and infrastructure through Section 106 agreements and the Community Infrastructure Levy will be replaced by a single Infrastructure Levy with rates to be set nationally. The new levy is intended to raise more revenue than the current system  and deliver at least as much – if not more – on-site affordable housing. Local authorities will have greater freedom in how they spend the proceeds of the levy.

The new levy will be extended to cover forms of permitted development rights, such as office-to-residential conversions which are exempt from the need for planning permission.

Local planning authorities will be subject to a nationally determined, binding requirement to deliver a specified volume of housing, with sanctions for falling short.

The consultation closes at 11.45pm on 29 October. Consultation questions are included in the white paper, which can be downloaded from a dedicated website. Responses may be submitted by email to planningforthefuture@communities.gov.uk or by post to:

Planning for the Future Consultation
Planning Directorate
3rd Floor, Fry Building
2 Marshal Street
London SW1P 4DF.

Posted 18:13 Friday, Aug 21, 2020 In: Local Government

3 Comments

Please read our comment guidelines before posting on HOT

  1. Nigel Ford

    Re DAR’s comment on 24/8, it simply isn’t true that net migration is the problem. Most migrants come here, work or study for a few years, then go home, and we need them to service an ageing population with a birthrate well below replacement level. It’s the overseas investors who buy in London and leave vacant that are the bigger problem. All figures available on gov.uk.

    There is an imbalance in provision- demand in the south, surplus in some parts of the north. Developers currently have unused permission to build in the region of 1 million houses, but haven’t. Remember, the first duty of a company is to increase share value, then make a profit for shareholders, and this can happen simply by owning land.
    But yes – the proposals have been objected to by planners, conservationists and housing charities, and welcomed by developers. Who donated, I understand, £11 million to the Conservative Party

    Comment by Nigel Ford — Monday, Aug 31, 2020 @ 00:01

  2. DAR

    The “housing crisis” is a problem of demand, not supply – an extra quarter of a million people (or more) every year – largely through net migration. These new proposals sound like a developers’ charter more than anything else.

    Comment by DAR — Monday, Aug 24, 2020 @ 10:08

  3. ken davis

    There is much to be criticized in these proposed reforms but at very least they will give the present unworkable system a good shake up. The notion of somebody (who?) deciding what is beautiful and what is not is particularly absurd though as beauty is about taste and that is wholly unreliable as it relies on personal preferences……oops, just like we have at the moment then (and which causes so much obfuscation and delay)!

    Comment by ken davis — Monday, Aug 24, 2020 @ 06:52

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