Key Points on the Government's Planning for the Future White Paper

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Key Points on the Government's Planning for the Future White Paper

Published 6 agosto 2020

A little later than expected but today sees the publication of what has been heralded by the Prime Minister and Housing Minister, Robert Jenrick, as a ‘radical’ ‘first principles’ overhaul of the English planning system – with the ambition of stripping away decades of reform since 1947 that have resulted in ‘complexity, uncertainty and delay’; a system that still relies on 20th Century technology (i.e. paper) and founded on a discretionary decision-making process that makes outcomes arbitrary and unattractive to investment.

If the existing system was drowning then large parts of the paper are devoted to describing the water, but between that and images of nostalgia and design aspiration, there are real signs of ambition and acknowledgement that the current planning system is not delivering development at the scale nor at the pace it should be. Much as many commentators will talk about previous failed attempts at reform, the risk of unintended consequences and the uncertainty linked to creating new learning curves (for the Planning Inspectorate and the Courts) – we believe that a bold, clean slate approach is to be applauded, at a time when the development industry needs to know that it has Government’s full attention and support.

The White Paper is based on the following 5 key objectives for reform:

1. Streamlining the planning process
2. Digitizing the planning system - for plan-making and decision-taking
3. A focus on design and sustainability
4. A revised approach to developer contributions and infrastructure delivery
5. Making more land available for housing delivery and supporting town centre regeneration

We draw out some of the most significant ideas about how to achieve those ambitions:

  • Dragging planning into the digital age (Planning ‘Ex Machina’) – given the power of the search engines that now sit in the palms of our hands, it’s somewhat bizarre that the procedures which shape our built landscape still rely upon weathered notices swinging from lamp-posts. The Government will adopt a digital-first approach to modernise the planning process as well as to make technology part of the decision-making process. This means moving from a process based on documents to a process driven by data – about time given the UK’s world-class status in PropTech. A new PropTech Innovation Council will be set up to make the most of innovation.
  • Simplifying and expediting Local Plans – proposals to make Local Plans subject to a single statutory “sustainable development” test, replacing the existing tests of ‘soundness’ and abolishing the Duty to Cooperate. Local Plans should be shorter, based on a standard template, rely on digital interactive mapping and crucially be prepared more quickly. The Government proposes a statutory timetable of no more than 30 months in total for key stages of the process to be completed – with sanctions for failure.
  • Local Plans should identify three types of land – Growth areas suitable for substantial development, Renewal areas suitable for development, and areas that are Protected.

o Growth areas would have outline approval for development and substantial development will be defined.
o Renewal areas would cover existing built areas where smaller scale development is appropriate such as infill of residential areas, development in town centres, and development in rural areas that is not annotated as Growth or Protected areas.
o Protected – this would include sites and areas which, as a result of their particular environmental and/or cultural characteristics, would justify more stringent development controls to ensure sustainability. Some areas would be defined nationally, others locally on the basis of national policy.

  • A new ‘Infrastructure Levy’ and attitude towards planning gain – a proposal to abolish CIL and S106 obligations as we know it, to become a simplified nationally set, value-based flat rate charge and one that is applicable to a broader range of development - including that authorised as permitted development. Whilst interrogating revenue makes the levy even more of a tax, it is said that this will sweep away months of Section 106 and viability negotiation around delivery of social infrastructure. This is indeed a very different approach, but change is necessary as CIL is universally recognised as unfit for purpose, is too complex and uneven in its application by local authorities. More fundamentally CIL is incapable of securing the infrastructure when it is needed to unlock development. Planning obligations will still deal with on-site and site specific matters and we can expect the Government to be more ambitious about securing affordable housing – indicating a harder line around evidence of scheme viability.
  • Capturing uplift in land values - The Government is consulting on using developer contributions to capture a greater proportion of the land value uplift that occurs through the grant of planning permission and to use this to fund infrastructure delivery. The value captured will depend on the development value, the existing use value of the land, and the relevant tax structure such as whether capital gains tax applies to the land sale. Increasing value capture would need to be balanced against risks to development viability.
  • A national approach to housing numbers – the Government proposes a new nationally determined, binding housing requirement to be delivered through Local Plans. This signals a more top-down approach than in recent memory as to how we achieve 300,000 new homes per year and a greater interrogation of the regional constraints – including Green Belt.
  • Building ‘beautiful’ – we can expect to see Design Codes that have more ‘bite’ on the ultimate development. Local communities will be given more genuine influence, rather than what is perceived as ‘meaningless consultation’. There will be a new body to support the delivery of design codes. LPAs will have a chief officer for design and place-making to raise design standards and the quality of development. But high quality development proposals which do reflect local character and preferences will be fast-tracked for permission.
  • Faster decision-making with firm deadlines - The time limits of eight or 13 weeks for determining an application from validation to decision to be a firm deadline.
  • Resourcing of the planning system – The cost of operating the new planning system is to be principally funded by landowners and developers. If a new approach to development contributions is implemented, a small proportion of the income will be earmarked to local planning authorities to cover their overall planning costs, including the preparation and review of Local Plans and design codes and enforcement activities.

The White Paper consultation will run for 12 weeks. If you would like to discuss how these proposals could impact on your business or how we can assist in preparing your consultation responses then please contact the DACB Planning Team.

Key Contacts

Andrew Morgan

Andrew Morgan

London - Walbrook

+44 (0)20 7894 6193

Christopher Stanwell

Christopher Stanwell

London - Walbrook

+44 (0)20 7894 6269

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