Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick unveils planning reforms

16th March 2020

In late October 2019 Housing Minister, Robert Jenrick, promised systemic changes to what he branded Britain’s “broken” planning system. On 11th March 2020, the Chancellor announced in his budget that there would be a set of “comprehensive reforms” to the planning system imminently. The resulting document entitled “Planning for the Future”, published a day later, had lofty expectations to live up to. So, does it live up to its hype? Does it properly identify the problems with the planning system and go as far as suggesting a possible solution? We are told that a “White Paper” will follow in the spring, so this is merely a teaser with more to come. Here we provide a quick run through and commentary on the changes likely to be introduced through the White Paper.

The stated aim of the Government is to modernise the planning system, take a sensible look at planning rules, make engagement easier, empower local people to play a role in decisions that affect them and… accelerate planning decisions. Perhaps therein lies the first challenge, in that it is often the public engagement and power to local people that slows down the planning system. Will these proposed changes enable the Government to deliver on its promises?

  • The principal focus of the latest announcements, consistent with the Government’s approach in recent years, is the delivery of more homes. Amongt all the usual soundbites of encouraging the redevelopment of brownfield land, reviewing housing need, promoting self build etc. is a focus on building upwards through the relaxation of permitted development rights. This has been on and off the agenda for some times and we are still yet to see any detail of how this would apply in real life situations
  • There will be consequences for local planning authorities (LPAs) which don’t have local plans in place by 2023. Planning fees will be linked to LPA performance, so the worst performers will be financially penalised. There will be a rebate of fees when planning applications are successfully appealed. There can be only one logical conclusion from this. If the fees are going to be a trigger for the promised “world class planning service”, which will properly resource LPAs, then the planning fees will be going up. If poorly performing LPAs are supposed to deliver the same service but with less income than the better performing authorities, then this suggests that the application fees will be increasing a significant amount.
  • Other suggested ideas include:
    • redeveloping vacant buildings for new residential development (potentially as permitted development), which we have heard before and await details;
    • a map/database showing all the brownfield land in the country to make it easier for developers to find brownfield land. The current brownfield land registers are a start on this but they are only as useful as the data that is available; and
    • American style zoning practices are going to be encouraged, in theory to remove some of the layers of red tape for certain developments in specified areas.
  • There is the usual rhetoric on design and improving the quality of development, no doubt resulting in ever more generic design guides and policies. Local people will, apparently, be the judges of good design.
  • There will be an emphasis on green development although it is unclear if this means more soft landscaping or greater sustainability credentials. We can only assume it means both, to fit in with the ethos of the document.
  • And finally, no such document would be complete without the usual promise to deliver more affordable housing. Other than a new pot of money (£12 billion) to help do this, there doesn’t appear to be any indication of how the planning system can translate this cash injection into actual affordable homes.

The ideas, as far as they extend at the moment, look reasonable. However, we have seen similar documents released by the Government regularly. We remain none the wiser whether there will be new legislation or new guidance. The paper suggests that the National Planning Policy Framework will be “revised” rather than replaced. Maybe not the comprehensive changes we were promised after all.

Given that the plentiful drifts of daffodils around suggest that it is well and truly already spring, we hope that we will not be left waiting for too much longer to see the more detailed promised White Paper.

For more information on the upcoming changes and how they may affect your planning project, please contact Partner, Nick Cobbold.

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