Planning for the Future

17th August 2020

White Paper

The Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG) published the eagerly awaited white paper on the 6th August 2020 and are running a 12-week consultation on the proposals. The Government have been keen to promote it as a vehicle to deliver genuine reform of the planning system, to ‘streamline and modernise’ the planning process. So, what are the key proposals being put forward as part of the white paper?

The white paper introduces “three pillars” of reform titled ‘Planning for development’, ‘Planning for beautiful and sustainable places’ and ‘Planning for infrastructure and connected places’. Under each pillar a series changes to the workings of the current planning system are proposed.

Pillar one – Planning for development

  • Local plans would be simplified and focus on three categories of land – “growth areas” that are “suitable for substantial development”; “renewal areas” that are “suitable for development”; and “protected areas”. In “growth areas”, outline approval would be automatically granted for types of development specified in the plan. Development in renewal areas would “cover existing built areas where smaller scale development is appropriate” and could include the “gentle densification” of residential areas, development in town centres, and small sites in and around villages. There would be a “statutory presumption in favour of development” specified in the plan. Protected areas, including green belt, conservation areas and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs), would still be subject to “more stringent” development controls and full planning applications would be required for new schemes.
  • Instead of general development control policies, local plans would be required to set out site- and area-specific requirements for development, coupled with locally produced design codes. The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) “would become the primary source of policies for development management”.
  • The potential of scrapping the five-year housing land supply requirement. Instead the “proposed approach should ensure that enough land is planned for, and with sufficient certainty about its availability for development, to avoid a continuing requirement to be able to demonstrate a five-year supply of land”. However, the white paper proposes to “maintain the housing delivery test and the presumption in favour of sustainable development as part of the new system”.
  • Councils and the Planning Inspectorate would be required to adhere to a new statutory timetable of no more than 30 months for plan preparation with “sanctions for those who fail to do so”. This is in context of the average time taken from plan publication to adoption rising from an average of 450 days in 2009 to 815 days in 2019.
  • The planning process would be increasingly digitised, moving from “a process based on documents to a process driven by data”. Local authorities would be helped to use digital tools to support “a new civic engagement process for local plans and decision-making”.

Pillar two – Planning for beautiful and sustainable places

  • Under a proposed new “fast-track for beauty”, standardised design principles will be established through a new National Model Design Code. New development would be expected to create a “net gain” to areas’ appearance.
  • Design codes, which would be expected to be prepared locally, would be made “more binding” on planning decisions. A new body would be established to support the delivery of design codes across the country.
  • Each local planning authority would be required to have a chief officer for design and place-making.

Pillar three – Planning for infrastructure and connected places

  • The standard housing need method would be changed so that the requirement would be “binding” on local planning authorities who would “have to deliver [it] through their local plans”. The new method “would be a means of distributing the national housebuilding target of 300,000 new homes annually”. Housing requirements focus on areas where affordability pressure is highest and on brownfield land.
  • A new ‘single infrastructure levy’ will replace the existing developer contributions system of section 106 agreements and the community infrastructure levy.
  • Heavier scrutiny and penalties for councils that fail to determine an application within the statutory time limits are proposed. This could involve “the automatic refund of the planning fee for the application”. Ministers also “want to explore whether some types of applications should be deemed to have been granted planning permission if there has not been a timely determination”.
  • The costs of operating the planning system should be “principally funded” by developer contributions “rather than the national or local taxpayer”.

At this stage, it is difficult to see the proposals put forward within the white paper as little more than a political play by the Government. Clearly the simplifying of the planning system would be welcomed by all of those involved with it, however it will take a number of years before the proposals within the white paper are in place, with the need for new legislation and policy to be worked out first. Although reform is very much needed and many of the proposals within the white paper are based on sound ideology, the reality may be much ‘diminished’ when it comes to implementation. Don’t change all your plans just yet, it might be a while before anything comes into effect.

Read our article ‘More Than Just Ideas‘ to find out about the more tangible and shorter term measures proposed in the ‘Changes to the Current Planning System’ consultation paper.

Jamie Wallace, Associate

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