Following the 2020 Budget, pledging £10.9 billion towards housing delivery and £1.1 billion in local infrastructure, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has now set out a number of ways in which they propose to reform the planning system. These include further revisions to the National Planning Policy Framework. The paper entitled “Planning for the Future” comes ahead of the anticipated Planning White paper, due to be published in Spring 2020. The White paper promises to offer creative planning solutions, modernise the system and accelerate decisions to rebuild a home owning Britain.
The focus is increasing housing delivery but also improving quality that enables people to put down roots in sustainable places and beautiful, affordable homes. How do the government intend to deliver this strategy and how will it impact the planning system?
In a bid to promote brownfield development the government are providing financial incentives to those local authorities who actively encourage brownfield development through their Development Plans. Committing £400 million to be distributed amongst local authorities, where appropriate. Furthermore, by the end of April 2020, the government has said it will release an interactive brownfield map which will identify brownfield sites across the country. While that should help identify preferred locations for housing, it may not ascertain much that is otherwise new or unknown to developers and will reflect the 2017 requirement for local authorities to have created such a register.
The Government also says it will introduce permitted development (PD) rights to include the two-storey upward extension of existing residential premises (quite popular in Temple London home borough of Southwark). This has had a long gestation, having been touted though consultation back in 2016 albeit with many responses being negative, especially on potential design outcomes. New PD rights on the redevelopment of vacant commercial, industrial and residential blocks as ‘new build’ housing is to be consulted upon.
The planning process, often criticised for being over-complicated and time-consuming. Amongst other initiatives, the government are proposing a new fee structure that will see an increase in planning fees to local authorities. It isn’t clear whether this is intended to improve resources in an effective way or reward best performing authorities – a criticism of previous proposals. That said, the paper suggests that applicants who win on appeal after refusal by local planning committees will receive a full refund for the application fee. While we can see several issues with this, such as the general practice that local authorities are entitled to reach a reasoned decision on the full face of the facts, this may prove to be a useful step forward.
While in our view, such attempts at improvement are useful, until increased training, public sector salaries and a shared objective of achieving sustainable development is really in place, it may not be enough to really get things moving.
Finally, for now, the Government is aiming to empower local authorities to help deliver beautiful places and good design. The National Design Guide was published last year (which effectively summarised long standing existing best practice) with design codes likely to follow. Other measures are touted, and it will be very interesting to see how these could operate and deliver better places. Certainly, a great idea, but one that is likely to be time consuming and controversial in operation.
Well, given current circumstances one might be forgiven for expecting the white paper to be delayed beyond the spring. However, we have already seen the proactive and swift pace with which the government have published the Local Authorities and Police and Crime Panels (Coronavirus) (Flexibility of Local Authority and Police and Crime Panel Meetings) (England and Wales) Regulations 2020. These Regulations came into force on 4 April 2020 and advocate virtual planning committee meetings in order to facilitate decision making during the COVID-19 pandemic. With MHCLG promising that the white paper will set out measures to accelerate planning and maximise the potential of new technologies to modernise the system, isn’t this the perfect opportunity to prove the planning system is changing, and for the better?