This week, the Government published its much-anticipated White Paper ‘Planning for the Future’, setting out for consultation its vision of a radically reworked planning system which seeks to, in the words of Robert Jenrick, deliver a ‘significantly simpler, faster and more predictable system’; one which is more ‘efficient, effective and equitable’. At first glance, the proposals look both ambitious and radical – in his introduction to the White Paper, the Prime Minister describes the proposals as ‘radical reform unlike anything we have seen since the Second World War’ – although it is important to note that the fundamental aspects of the planning system will remain in place.
What is proposed to change?
The White Paper proposes significant changes to both the plan-making and decision-taking processes. In addition, there are a range of proposals which seek to bring planning into the digital age – embracing technology and encouraging greater participation. Measures are also set out to also encourage SMEs and self-build, and for all new homes to be carbon neutral by 2050.
Proposed changes to plan-making
The biggest change to the planning system set out in the White Paper is the proposed move towards a ‘zonal’ planning system, with land allocated as one of three zones:
– Growth areas, which will be suitable for “substantial development” (a term which the Government will define) – this will be land suitable for “comprehensive development” which could include new settlements, urban extensions, regeneration sites or business clusters.
– Renewal areas, which will be “suitable for development” – this will cover existing built areas where smaller development is appropriate, such as existing residential areas, town centres, rural areas (where these are not ‘Growth’ or ‘Protected’ areas) and infill sites in villages.
– Protected areas, which includes sites warranting more stringent development controls, such as Green Belt, Conservation Areas and AONBs, as well as areas of countryside outside of defined Growth or Renewal Areas.
Within Growth and Renewal Areas, suitable development uses will be defined by a Local Plan, as will restrictions on matters such as height and density. Local Plans can also define sub-areas within the broader Growth and Renewal Areas, for example town centres, or areas for higher-density residential development.
Other changes to plan-making proposed in the White Paper include:
– Local Plans are to be shorter, prepared in 30 months and to be reduced in scope, with ‘generic’ development management policies set out in a revised NPPF, leaving Local Plans to focus on setting area-specific development standards. Local Plans will need to identify areas to meet development needs for a minimum period of ten years.
– The ‘soundness’ tests will be removed and replaced by a statutory ‘sustainable development’ test. As part of this, the Duty to Co-Operate test will be abolished, and Sustainability Appraisals will be abolished and replaced with a simplified process of assessing environmental impact (no further details are provided on this; a detailed consultation is expected in the Autumn).
– A standard method of establishing housing requirements will be established, set at the national level.
– Neighbourhood Plans will be retained, with support for communities to make better use of digital tools.
Proposed changes to decision-taking
The White Paper seeks to implement a ‘streamlined development management process’. In ‘Growth’ areas, outline planning permission would automatically be granted for the principle of development, meaning that only detailed planning permission would need to be secured, potentially through a revised reserved matters process, a Local Development Order, or a Development Consent Order in the case of exceptionally large sites. In ‘Renewal’ areas, there would be a presumption in favour of development, and for pre-specified forms of development, an ‘automatic consent’ if the scheme meets prior approval requirements.
Other proposed changes to decision-taking include:
– Faster and more certain decision-making, with the 8 and 13-week determination periods becoming ‘firm deadlines’, and incentives to ensure that local planning authorities determine all applications within these.
– A streamlined approach to developer contributions, replacing Section 106 and CIL with a nationally-set ‘Infrastructure Levy’, to be charged on the final value of the development and levied at the point of occupation. The Infrastructure Levy could also be extended to include changes of use which take place under permitted development, and as a mechanism for affordable housing – although there is little detail on how this will be achieved.
– The relationship between planning committees and decision-taking under the new system is not made clear.
A strong emphasis on design
The White Paper aspires for the ‘simplified’ planning system to enable ‘the creation of beautiful places that will stand the test of time’, protect and enhance the environment, and help to combat climate change. This will be achieved by preparation of local design codes, developed in consultation with local communities, and a ‘fast track for beauty’, where proposals which comply with ‘pre-established principles of what good design looks like’ should be expedited through the planning process.
A 21st Century planning system
Much is made of the need for the planning system to embrace digital technology, both to improve efficiency and levels of local democratic participation. This could include:
– Local Plans to be visual and map-based, standardised and based on the latest technology, including web-based, colour coded maps clearly identifying ‘Growth’, ‘Renewal’ and ‘Protected’ areas, and suitable development uses within each.
– Development management policies which can be integrated with digital services, enabling digital tech to ‘screen’ developments to identify a whether a development is policy compliant.
– New digital engagement processes to enhance civic engagement, and support to local authorities and Neighbourhood Plans to deliver this;
– Greater digitisation of the planning application process, including shorter and more standardised planning applications, and standardisation of technical supporting information; and
– National planning application registers
The proposals set out in the White Paper are broad in scope, and amount to a substantial reframing of the planning system, albeit one which keeps the twin strands of Local Plans and development management at its heart. The proposals are open for consultation until 11.45pm on 29th October 2020, with consultation documents available here.
‘Changes to the Current Planning System’ consultation
Separately published for consultation at the same time as ‘Planning for the Future’ is a further document ‘Changes to the Current Planning System’ which sets out proposed short-term changes to improve the effectiveness of the current planning system. The four changes proposed are:
– changes to the standard method for assessing local housing need;
– securing of ‘First Homes’, sold at a discount to market price for first time buyers, including key workers, through developer contributions in the short term until the transition to a new planning system. The Government intends that a minimum of 25% of all affordable housing units secured through developer contributions should be First Homes; this will be a national threshold, set out in planning policy.
– temporarily lifting the small sites threshold below which developers do not need to contribute to affordable housing, from the current threshold of up to 10 units, to up to 40 or 50 units, for an initial period of 18 months; and
– extending the current ‘Permission in Principle’ to major development, providing landowners and developers with a faster route to securing the principle of development for housing sites.
– The consultation documents can be viewed here. It should be noted that the consultation period for this consultation is shorter than the main ‘Planning for the Future’ proposals, with consultation on these proposed changes closing at 11.45pm on 1st October 2020.
There is a lot to digest in the proposals, and it is clear that more detail will be needed on many of the changes proposed, which we expect to be published in the autumn. The Firstplan team are happy to discuss any questions you may have on the proposed changes, and our website and LinkedIn pages will be updated with further comment and analysis as the proposals progress.