News - 07/08/2020

Planning for the Future: Overhauling the Planning System

Read our summary of the key proposed changes contained within the long-awaited Planning White Paper.

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The eagerly-awaited Planning White Paper was published yesterday amid a flurry of documents from Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) heralding a major revamp of the planning system.  Peter Biggs, Director of Planning, Development & Regeneration, highlights the major changes land owners and developers need to be aware of.

Planning for the 21st century

The White Paper, titled “Planning for the Future”, sets out a series of high-level reforms to streamline and modernise the planning process, bring a new focus to design and sustainability, improve the system of developer contributions to infrastructure, and ensure more land is available for development where it is needed.  In addition a further document is being consulted on, which is imaginatively titled “Changes to the Current Planning System”.

The main changes include:

  • A zonal system setting out whether planning permission for certain developments will be granted on a given site. Under the proposals, land will be designated into three categories:
  1. Growth areas: Proposals for new homes, hospitals, schools, shops and offices will be automatically allowed.
  2. Renewal areas: Proposals for high-quality development, largely on urban and brownfield sites, will be permitted through a prior approval system.
  3. Protected areas: Development on Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and National Pars will continue to be restricted to protect treasured heritage.
  • Changes to the standard method for assessing local housing need. At present, the system allows housing requirements to be constantly challenged, leading to delays in plan preparation and determining applications.  The new methodology would create a standard requirement that is binding, and in theory will drive greater land release through greater certainty.  The new standard method would set out development needs such as homes, businesses and community facilities for a minimum period of 10 years, rather than the current 5 years for housing.  Again, this would bring greater certainty.
  • A review of affordable housing thresholds in order to support SME developers. This would consider increasing the threshold above which affordable housing is required.  Such an increase would potentially make more sites viable and would speed up the pace of delivery by removing the need for negotiation.
  • A simpler national levy to replace the current system of developer contributions providing more certainty around financial obligations.
  • A pledge to create a system that will ensure local housing plans are developed and agreed within 30 months, currently this can often be a seven year plus painful experience. This deadline would be driven by legislation with sanctions for local authorities that fail to meet this timescale.  The new Local Plan process would be streamlined and subject to a single statutory “Sustainable Development” test, replacing the existing test of soundness, updating requirements for assessments and abolishing the Duty to Cooperate.
  • A rules-based system that makes it clearer to understand development requirements for a scheme and allocation, to reduce the number of planning cases that go to appeal.
  • Securing of First Homes for local people, key workers and first-time buyers at a 30% discount through developer contributions in the short-term until transition to a new system.
  • Extending the current Permission in Principle to major developments.
  • Promotion of all new homes to achieve a zero carbon ready status with without the need for costly retrofitting.

Devil in the detail

At first glance, these headlines could radically transform the current planning system and help bring about a faster, more streamlined and effective process, while maintaining credibility and transparency.  However, as always with all consultation documents, there is a question over what will actually make its way into legislation. 

That said, this is a very positive first step but more detail is required before we can fully understand the practical implications.

Have your say

The Planning for the Future White Paper is being consulted upon from 6 August until 29 October 2020 and the Changes to the Current Planning System document consultation will close on 1 October 2020.  For more information and to have your say click on the links below:

Planning for the Future

Changes to the Current Planning System

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