Planning reforms – does the white paper plan for a positive future?

In my last blog, I looked at the new permitted development rules and reactions to the announcement. Since then, the government has released its ‘Planning for the Future’ white paper, laying out proposed reforms of the whole planning system. These proposals are under consultation for 12 weeks, so I thought I’d have a look at some of the reactions since they were published a week ago. 

The white paper suggests that Local Plans should be simpler, and identify three types of land – Growth areas, Renewal areas, and Protected areas.  Growth areas will be suitable for substantial development, Renewal for smaller scale development, and Protected areas such as Green Belt land or conservation areas will need more stringent development controls. These designations will also include suitable uses for the land along with limitations on height and density. This aims to reduce objections from local people further down the line, as they will have been consulted with on the Local Plan from the beginning (this is obviously easier said than done). In fact, Protected areas are the only ones that will need full planning applications like we have now – in Growth and Renewal areas planning consent will be granted in other, quicker ways, given proposals meet Local Plan requirements. 

The proposals also focus on developments being beautiful and sustainable – generating net gains for quality of environment rather than simply causing no harm. It all sounds very positive – but what it will really come down to is enforcement. Councils struggle enough already to make planning efficient – with central Government set to dictate house-building numbers, it’s not hard to see where things might go wrong. It is also important to mention the plans to scrap section 106 agreements. A new infrastructure levy will take its place, but it is a cause for concern for many campaigners that developers may get away with contributing less to infrastructure and affordable housing.

Labour’s Shadow Housing and Planning Minister, Mike Amesbury, has labeled the white paper as a “developer’s charter that will see communities sidelined in decisions and denied vital funding”. Shelter’s Chief Executive said that the Government removing S106 requirements social housing “could face extinction”.  

Looking at the positives, these plans aim to reduce the time it takes to draw up a Local Plan – councils will be required to have a new one in place within 30 months of the legislation going through. This can only be a good thing, considering Local Plans notoriously take several years to come into effect at the moment, meaning by the time they are enforced the policies in them are already outdated. Requiring councils to speed this process up, and to involve local residents more from the outset, should mean easier and more current policies, although there will no doubt need to be extensive support in place for local authorities to actually achieve this. The Royal Town Planning Institute welcomed the recognition of the importance of local plans, although warned that more detail is needed on strategic planning across local authority boundaries. 

There are still uncertainties about the plans – it is not set out how this new community infrastructure levy will be calculated, for example, or how local communities will be given their chance to respond to proposals when they are not required to go through the planning application process. The intentions to increase the number of homes with less red tape, and create more sustainable buildings are certainly on the right track, but whether the new system creates results to match will remain to be seen.

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