Reform of the Planning System

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Earlier this month the Government issued two consultation papers with proposals to significantly reform the planning system with an ambition for new style Local Plans to be in place by the end of this Parliament. Our Community Housing Advisor, Colin McDonald, takes a look at what’s in the consultation papers and what the Government are hoping to achieve.

The White Paper, ‘Planning for the Future’ is a glossy document setting out the Governments overall ambitions for reforming the planning system. You can find it on the Government website here:

There’s also a more technical paper (much less glossy!) ‘Changes to the Current Planning System’ which sets out some immediate proposals – changes the Government can make fairly swiftly ahead of any new legislation needed for all the reforms contained in the white paper. You can find it on the Government website here:

There’s no doubt that the Governments proposals are ambitious. They have a target of producing an additional 300,000 new homes every year and 1 million by the end of the current Parliament. In order to do this, they want to speed up delivery and that means removing a lot of the current bureaucracy and uncertainty in the system. One of the aims is to make Local Plans more data based and available digitally in a map-based format. The Government also believes that a more digital approach will be more accessible.

The White Paper proposes three types of land – ‘protected’, ‘renewal’ and ‘growth’. Local Plans will be shorter, determining which land falls into which of these three categories. Where development is allowed there will be pre-set rules for what form it could take and planning applications will be all about whether the proposal fits in with these rules rather than the details that are currently considered.

Neighbourhood planning will still play an important role in the local community determining what is acceptable, but future Neighbourhood Plans will need to change in format in order to fit in with the new system. One suggestion is that the new system could even cope with different building codes at an even smaller local level, perhaps having a set of local rules for a single street.

The Government want the new system to encourage beauty. They want new schemes to make a positive contribution to the built environment and not just ‘do no net harm’. They also want all new homes to meet the carbon neutral ambition by 2050, eliminating the need to ‘retrofit’ greener components later.

Another thing they want to encourage is more smaller and medium size builders and this includes a proposal in the technical paper to temporarily increase the national threshold requiring an affordable housing contribution from 10 to either 40 or 50 dwellings.

The White Paper proposes doing away with planning contributions (section 106 requirements) such as affordable housing and the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL, which has been adopted by most of the planning authorities in the Wessex area) altogether. Instead there will be a nationally set Infrastructure Levy, although any affordable housing produced on-site will be taken into account.

The technical paper also proposes a new requirement for a quarter of all affordable housing currently required by planning obligation to be the new ‘First Homes’. First Homes are a form of discounted market dwelling aimed at first time buyers, where the discount has to be a minimum of 30%. The consultation suggests allowing local planning authorities to determine that the discount has to be higher – at either 40% or 50%.

The technical paper also proposes amending the way in which Local Authorities undertake their overall housing needs assessments (which effectively set the house building targets for Local Plans), including a revised formula which is intended to ensure that nationally the sum total of all such assessments (once they’re all in place) meets (or exceeds) the Governments target of 300,000 new homes per year.

There’s more, but those are the notable features. Also, in almost all cases both consultations set out either options or variations and often they describe alternative approaches. So, there’s a lot in there and it certainly would, if it all goes ahead, transform the planning system as we currently know it. Of course the devil is in the detail and part of the purpose of such consultations is to help Governments refine proposals so that they stand a better chance of producing the intended outcomes. I’m not providing any commentary here – just trying to highlight some of the key features set out by the Government in the two papers.

Some of these proposals, if they go ahead, could be implemented fairly quickly – for example by amending the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). Others would require new legislation. The technical consultation paper ‘Changes to The Current Planning System’ tends to over the former and proposes some measures that would effectively make some transitional amendments prior to the ’big bang’ that new planning law would usher in.

Various bodies – such as the National CLT Network and the Chartered Institute of Housing – will be making detailed responses. If you are a member of any such national body you may want to send any comments you have to them well before the consultation response deadlines, whether or not you want to send in your own response. What are those deadlines? It’s eight weeks, ending 1st October, for the technical paper and 12 weeks, ending 29th October, for the White Paper.