The Planning White Paper

The Government landmark reforms to speed up and modernise the planning system and get the country building was published on 6 August 2020 by the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick.

The Housing Secretary announced that the overhaul of the country’s outdated planning system that will deliver the high quality, sustainable homes communities need will be at the heart of the most significant reforms to housing policy in decades. He noted that the landmark changes will transform a system that has long been criticised for being too slow in providing housing for families, key workers and young people and too ineffectual in obligating developers to properly fund the infrastructure – such as schools, roads and GP surgeries – to support them.

Robert Jenrick MP noted that the country’s complex planning system has been a barrier to building the needed homes as it takes seven years to agree local housing plans and five years just to get a spade in the ground. He further stated that:

These once in a generation reforms will lay the foundations for a brighter future, providing more homes for young people and creating better quality neighbourhoods and homes across the country. We will cut red tape, but not standards, placing a higher regard on quality, design and the environment than ever before. Planning decisions will be simple and transparent, with local democracy at the heart of the process”.

The Planning reform as announced by the Housing Secretary means that:

  • Local communities will be consulted from the very beginning of the planning process. By harnessing the latest technology through online maps and data, the whole system will be made more accessible
  • Valued green spaces will be protected for future generations by allowing for more building on brownfield land and all new streets to be tree lined
  • Much-needed homes will be built quicker by ensuring local housing plans are developed and agreed in 30 months – down from the current 7 years
  • Every area must have a local plan in place – currently only 50% of local areas has a plan to build more homes
  • The planning process will be overhauled and replaced with a clearer rules based system. Currently around a third of planning cases that go to appeal are overturned at appeal
  • A new simpler national levy to replace the current system of developer contributions which often causes delay
  • The creation of a fast-track system for beautiful buildings and establishing local design guidance for developers to build and preserve beautiful communities
  • An ambition that new ‘zero carbon ready’ homes delivered under our new system will not require any future retrofitting.

There has been mixed reaction to the government overhaul of the country planning system. The CBI Chief UK Policy Director, Matthew Fell, noted that he welcomes the government’s changes to the planning system as these reforms will enable housebuilders to commence work, supporting supply chains, and more flexible, local markets across the country.

The Chief Executive Officer of Gleeson Homes, James Thomson, supported the reform and believes that this would ensure that the county’s planning process is fit for purpose in line with what happens in other developed nations. He particularly supports the planning reform initiative to be more transparent, speed up planning where appropriate and has a presumption towards development rather than against it, and agrees that the initiative would help the Government in their goal to provide 300,000 new homes a year.

He further noted that the Government Permission in Principle Initiative would aid his company to fast-track many of their new homes for first-time buyers, and people on lower incomes desperate to be on the property ladder. He agrees that  the reform would not only support the small local housebuilders including their supply chains, but they would help ensure that the country is levelled up through increased infrastructure investment enabling jobs and homes in the north 

The Government earlier this month introduced the ‘First Home’ scheme which will provide newly-built homes at a 30% discount for local people, key workers and first-time buyers. The Housing Secretary stated that the discount will be locked into the home in perpetuity to allow future buyers to benefit. He also introduced an innovative system of developer contributions that ensures that private firms play their role in funding the new Infrastructure and affordable homes that should accompany the new development.

Community Infrastructure Levy and Section 106 agreements will be substituted with a new Infrastructure Levy which will be a fixed proportion of the value of the development, above a set threshold and will ensure the delivery of more affordable housing. Revenues accrued from this will be expended locally on projects i.e. new roads, upgraded playgrounds and discounted homes for local, first-time buyers.

Towns and high streets will also benefit from renewed redevelopment through speeding up and simplifying the planning process, breathing new life into vacant commercial properties and industrial spaces and, where desirable transforming them into new homes.

Under the new reform, Councils are expected to prioritise good design, establish strong, local guidance and to create a fast-track for approving beautiful buildings. 

The reform also designates land into one of three categories namely, for growth, for renewal and or for protection. Communities will set the agenda for their own areas, with categories for all land across England decided through local consensus. The three categorisations of land will involve the followings:

  • Land suitable for growth will be approved for development simultaneously as that plans are prepared, meaning new homes and other forms of development can be built quickly and efficiently, as long as they comply with local design standards
  • Renewal areas will allow for much quicker development where it is well designed in a way that reflects community preferences.
  • Restriction on development on Green Land will continue to be restricted as it is now with policy remaining a decision for local authorities as they prepare their plans.

In conclusion, I strongly believe that this Government proposal will increase transparency and certainty to help increase the delivery of the needed housing. It is also promising to see Government renewed commitment to building well designed places for people to live and work, rather than just developments that primarily focus on density often to the detriment of place.

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