The UK Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government has issued its “Planning for the Future” White Paper which sets outs its plans for reforming the planning system in England. The White Paper can be downloaded here.
The Case for Change
The main driver for change appears to be that the current system (according to the government) is dated, slow to deliver decisions, undemocratic and untrusted.
Desire for Change
The government wants more houses approved, more builders involved, a simpler system, less case by case decision making, clarity on what’s allowed and what isn’t and faster decisions. There is also a desire to move from documents to data so that the process is more open to the general public.
There are twenty four specific proposals which are:
- The role of land use plans should be simplified. We propose that Local Plans should identify three types of land – Growth areas suitable for substantial development, Renewal areas suitable for development, and areas that are Protected.
- Development management policies established at national scale and an altered role for Local Plans.
- Local Plans should be subject to a single statutory “sustainable development” test, replacing the existing test of soundness.
- A standard method for establishing housing requirement figures which ensures enough land is released in the areas where affordability is worst, to stop land supply being a barrier to enough homes being built. The housing requirement would factor in land constraints and opportunities to more effectively use land, including through densification where appropriate, to ensure that the land is identified in the most appropriate areas and housing targets are met.
- Areas identified as Growth areas (suitable for substantial development) would automatically be granted outline planning permission for the principle of development, while automatic approvals would also be available for pre-established development types in other areas suitable for building.
- Decision-making should be faster and more certain, with firm deadlines, and make greater use of digital technology.
- Local Plans should be visual and map-based, standardised, based on the latest digital technology, and supported by a new template.
- Local authorities and the Planning Inspectorate will be required through legislation to meet a statutory timetable for key stages of the process, and we will consider what sanctions there would be for those who fail to do so.
- Neighbourhood Plans should be retained as an important means of community input, and we will support communities to make better use of digital tools.
- A stronger emphasis on build out through planning.
- To make design expectations more visual and predictable, we will expect design guidance and codes to be prepared locally with community involvement, and ensure that codes are more binding on decisions about development.
- To support the transition to a planning system which is more visual and rooted in local preferences and character, we will set up a body to support the delivery of provably locally-popular design codes, and propose that each authority should have a chief officer for design and place-making.
- To further embed national leadership on delivering better places, we will consider how Homes England’s strategic objectives can give greater emphasis to delivering beautiful places.
- We intend to introduce a fast-track for beauty through changes to national policy and legislation, to incentivise and accelerate high quality development which reflects local character and preferences.
- We intend to amend the National Planning Policy Framework to ensure that it targets those areas where a reformed planning system can most effectively play a role in mitigating and adapting to climate change and maximising environmental benefits.
- We intend to design a quicker, simpler framework for assessing environmental impacts and enhancement opportunities, that speeds up the process while protecting and enhancing the most valuable and important habitats and species in England.
- Conserving and enhancing our historic buildings and areas in the 21st century.
- To complement our planning reforms, we will facilitate ambitious improvements in the energy efficiency standards for buildings to help deliver our world-leading commitment to net-zero by 2050.
- The Community Infrastructure Levy should be reformed to be charged as a fixed proportion of the development value above a threshold, with a mandatory nationally-set rate or rates and the current system of planning obligations abolished.
- The scope of the Infrastructure Levy could be extended to capture changes of use through permitted development rights.
- The reformed Infrastructure Levy should deliver affordable housing provision.
- More freedom could be given to local authorities over how they spend the Infrastructure Levy.
- As we develop our final proposals for this new planning system, we will develop a comprehensive resources and skills strategy for the planning sector to support the implementation of our reforms.
- We will seek to strengthen enforcement powers and sanctions.
Proposals that we find particularly interesting are proposals 3, 15, 16 and 18. What is proposed is a thorough shake-up of the planning system.
It will be interesting to see how much of this is delivered in practice and whether the proposals all fit with each other.
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