Reforms to the Planning System: The Planning Bill

Legislation Update
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The Government has announced its intention to introduce a Planning Bill which will build upon last year’s White Paper publication and subsequent consultations.

In August 2020, the Government set out proposed reforms to the planning system within a White Paper entitled ‘Planning for the Future’. The paper sought to address issues including:

-too few homes being built;

-only a minority of local authorities having up-to-date local plans in place; and

-very little meaningful engagement with the planning system.

In the words of Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, the reforms aim to deliver a ‘significantly simpler, faster and more predictable system’ (see our previous post on this here: ).

The reforms included:

-a proposed move to a ‘zonal’ system to facilitate new development;

-streamlining the consultation process for non-strategic planning;

-shortening of the local plan preparation process;

-abolition of the Duty to Cooperate; and

-standardising a method for calculating housing requirements.

Following the release of the White Paper, the Government has faced criticism in respect of the need for greater detail about how the proposed reforms would work.

In October last year, 14 London planning authorities submitted an open letter to the Government, in which they branded the document as ‘unworkable’ and ‘a threat to local democracy’.  For instance, with regards to focussing consultation on strategic planning, the authorities alleged that this would offer landowners and developers a ‘fast-tracked route’ to planning consent, but at a cost to local communities. They said: ‘we should be putting communities at the heart of place making, increasing the resources of our planning system and strengthening local democracy’.

Despite the Queen’s Speech in May confirming the Government’s determination to push ahead with the full package of reforms, the House of Commons Housing, Communities and Local Government (HCLG) Select Committee have recently published findings of their examination into how well they would support the Government’s wider building strategy. This includes its target to build 300,000 new home a year and ensuring ‘high quality development’, as well as how new proposals would protect existing buildings or localities and how well it provides mechanisms for local engagement in the planning system (‘The Future of the Planning System in England’ report).

Findings include the assertion that the proposed zoning system may not necessarily be quicker, cheaper or more democratic.  Whilst supportive of the introduction of a statutory obligation that requires all local authorities to have a local plan, and a timeframe for delivering them, the report raises concerns that 30-months would not be practical or sufficient to ensure effective consultation and cooperation, particularly between local authorities. In this regard the report states that further details should be provided concerning the proposed removal of the Duty to Cooperate. Growth and renewal areas should be guided by detailed plans which include key details such as building heights and minimum parking standards. It also recommends that individuals must still be allowed to comment on individual planning applications, and not just local plans.

With regards to plans to expand the use of digital technology, this is welcomed and it is also recommended that virtual planning meetings should be retained in addition to the retention of traditional methods of decision making.

Three key points were made in respect of housing numbers and delivery:

-that the evidence base behind the Government’s target of 300,000 new dwellings a year should be published;

-that time limits are set on the commencement of developments, with potential financial penalties, should this not be achieved; and

-that additional information is needed in respect of the housing formula announced by the Government in December 2020.

After proposing the replacement of the current Section 106 and Community Infrastructure Levy with a national infrastructure levy, the Committee finds that there is a case for replacing the latter but not the former, citing that Section 106 Agreements should continue to protect against a possible loss of affordable housing.

Based on the feedback and the remaining unanswered questions, we expect to see notable changes to the planning White Paper later this year as it progresses into legislation and we will continue to monitor this closely.  The Firstplan team are happy to discuss any questions you may have regarding the changes.