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The Government’s new White Paper – ‘Planning for the Future’

This morning 6th August, MHCLG released the much-heralded Planning White Paper. Consultation will run for 12 weeks until 29th October.

The Prime Minister’s Foreword describes the English planning system as “a relic from the middle of the 20thCentury” which he criticises as outdated, ineffective and a constraint to the growth potential of the country. Government therefore propose radical reform, which is promised to be “simpler, clearer and quicker to navigate”.

Secretary of State Robert Jenrick’s Foreword also stresses the need for “a significantly simpler, faster and more predictable system”, which it is claimed will be “cutting rate tape, but not standards”.

Overall the White Paper proposes ambitious structural change to the current planning system with greater emphasis on quality of design and place making in the built environment.

Five main proposals are highlighted:

  1. A ‘streamlined planning process’ – with Local Plans focused on designating three categories of Land Zoning– Growth Areas, where outline consent would automatically be granted for development specified in the new Plans; Renewal Areas, where some development will be permitted; and Protected Areas, where development will be resisted, e.g. National Parks, AONBs, Green Belts, Local Green Spaces. Government will be setting out national general development management policies, leaving Local Plans stripped back to set rules for area and site-specific proposals as well as local design codes. Local Plans will have to be produced/reviewed within 30 months and subject only to a single statutory sustainability test.
  2. Moving to a ‘digital-first approach’ – i.e. moving from a system based on multiple large background documents to one driven by standardized digital data streams.
  3. Enhanced design and sustainability’ – support measures to combat climate change; facilitate improved energy efficiency standards to meet net-zero target by 2050; introduce a quicker and simpler EIA system.
  4. Improved infrastructure delivery’ – Local CIL and s.106 POAs to be replaced by a national flat rate Infrastructure Levy, expanded to include affordable housing, with fewer exemptions, and greater LPA power to determine how money is spent locally.
  5. Ensure more land is available for development’ – Housing requirements to be nationally determinedaimed to ensure delivery of 300,000 homes per year.

The new planning system should see “a more engaging, equitable and effective system.” Development proposals, new Plans and Design Codes will all be made accessible on smart phones, with clearer visual presentations rather than large PDF documents.

To help deliver the promised 300,000 new homes each year, Government is looking for far greater contributions from SME house-builders rather than being over-reliant on national house builders delivering on large sites, where progress is often much slower than initially envisaged.

Three broad pillars for improving the system are put forward:

Pillar One – Planning for Development

Land use Local Plans to be simplified with just three land types – Growth Areas; Renewal Areas; Protected Areas.

  • Development management policies to be established at national level with simplified role for Local Plans based on local design codes.
  • A new Sustainability Testwill replace existing legal and policy tests for Local Plans to speed up the process, with no Duty to Cooperate or Sustainability Appraisal requirements.
  • A standard methodology for establishing housing requirements will be set nationallyto distribute the national housebuilding target of 300,000 homes/year.
  • The Housing Delivery Test and presumption in favour of sustainable development will be retained but with far less emphasis placed on 5-year land supplies.
  • Automatic planning permissionfor schemes in accordance with Growth Area designations in adopted Development Plans.
  • Firm deadlines for application determinations by LPAs– The 8 and 13-week periods will no longer be aspirational targets. [Might this result in more refusals in the short term?]
  • Local Plans : to be much simpler, visual and map-based
  • A new 30-month Plan-making processStage 1 (6 months)– a ‘calls for’ stage for suggestions in each of the three new zonal areas; Stage 2 (12 months)– LPA prepares its Local Plan and background support evidence; Stage 3 (6 weeks)– submission of the draft Plan for Examination and, at same time, seek public comment on the proposals; Stage 4 (9 months)– Inspector considers whether the three zonal categories proposed in the draft Plan are ‘sustainable’, having considered the LPA and all Third-Party representations and then, as necessary, makes binding changes sufficient to satisfy the statutory test; Stage 5 (6 weeks)– Local Plan map, key and text are finalized, and come into force.
  • Neighbourhood Plans will be retained– and greater use to be encouraged but content should become more focused.

Pillar Two – Planning for Beautiful and Sustainable Places

The planning system will set clear expectationsthrough Design Codes creating frameworks for quality.

  • A new National Model Design Code will be published in the Autumn, alongside a revised and consolidated Manual for Streets, to supplement last year’s National Design Guide.
  • LPAs expected to publish their own design Codes, which will be prepared with greater community involvement and made more binding on development decisions.
  • Planning system to be more visual and rooted in local design preferences and character, with each LPA to have its own chief officer for design and place making.
  • The design remit of Homes England is to be expanded to establish it as an exemplar.
  • There will be a ‘fast-track for beautyto incentivize and accelerate high-quality developments – where proposals accord with approved design codes they will be fast-tracked for approval.
  • In Renewal Areas Government is to allow pre-approval of popular and replicable designs through permitted development.
  • Effective stewardship and enhancement of the natural and historic environment – to include mandatory net gains for biodiversity as a condition of most development.
  • NPPF to be further revised to give greater national EIA standards with local, spatially-specific policies geared towards identifying important views, opportunities to improve public access or places where renewable energy, woodland and forestry can be accommodated.
  • There will be a review of the framework for protecting listed buildings and conservation areasto ensure their significance is conserved whilst also facilitating sympathetic changes to address climate change. Some autonomy may be given to suitably qualified architectural specialists to avoid the need for listed building consent.
  • Ambitious improvements in energy efficiency standards for buildings will be facilitated, to help achieve the net-zero carbon target by 2050.

Pillar Three – Planning for Infrastructure & Connected Places

A nationally set consolidated Infrastructure Levy, charged as a fixed proportion of likely final development values, which would be charged upon occupation and would be geared towards early infrastructure delivery.

  • Government intends capturing a far greater proportion of land value uplift. [Will this inevitably penalise landowners and necessitate greater use of CPO powers?]
  • Government will extend the new Levy to capture changes of use through relaxed permitted development rights.
  • The Levy will be extended to include affordable housing– with suggested 30% savings on market value retained in perpetuity.
  • Government is suggesting that even more than the current 25% of levycould be directed locally towards identified priority projects. Plus some of the levy can be used to improve planning resource in LPA.
  • LPAs will be allowed to borrow against infrastructure Levy revenues, to enable forward funding of infrastructure projects.

Commentary:

The devil will be in the detail as to how these suggested improvements will be delivered. Having previously introduced a system of ‘Localism’, due in part to criticisms of Regional Growth targets being undemocratic, this new system will see development targets set nationally. Local decision making will be restricted to where best to accommodate the targets set by zoning sufficient Growth and Renewal areas.

From the design perspective Local Plans and Neighbourhood Plans will become ‘more focussed’ on achieving high-quality design, with less attention given towards development needs, which will become more prescriptively set. Whether that proves to be politically popular we will have to see.

It is however particularly encouraging that the Government will expect every LPA to employ a Chief Design Officer responsible for design and placemaking.

The new planning system proposed in the White Paper would certainly become more streamlined and decision-making ought to be far quicker – but at what expense?  Cue a major debate in the development industry.

As Chair of the RIBA Planning Group Philip Waddy will be assisting the RIBA in responding to the consultation which runs until end October.