The government has revealed its plans for a major upheaval to the planning system involving land being designated into one of three categories - for growth, renewal or protection. The Housing, Communities and Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick claims that communities will set the agenda for their own areas, with the categories for all land across England decided through local consensus.

A consultation on the 'overhaul of the country’s outdated planning system' was  opened by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) on Thursday 6th August. The new plans, published in the Planning for the Future White Paper, will be the most significant reforms to housing policy in decades, Jenrick said, and would focus on delivering 'the high-quality, sustainable homes communities need'.

Local community agreement will also be at the centre of the proposals being put forward, said Jenrick. But Shadow Housing and Planning Minister Mike Amesbury said: ‘This is a developers' charter that will see communities sidelined in decisions and denied vital funding for building schools, clinics and community infrastructure.’

Under the Government's plans, land will be designated into one of three categories - for growth, for renewal or for protection. Communities will set the agenda for their own areas, with the categories for all land across England decided through local consensus.

More than one million homes with planning consent in the past decade are yet to be built, according to figures from the LGA

Decisions on the Green Belt will stay with local authorities as they prepare their plans.

The immediate response from the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA), was that 'ripping up the system won’t build the homes we need'.

Fiona Howie, Chief Executive of the TCPA said:‘The TCPA is obviously disappointed that our longstanding calls for a more people-centred system focused on health and well-being have not been taken up. As an organisation, we are determined to work with communities and government to ensure future reforms preserve a democratic system which works in the public interest.'

Howie added: 'The government’s planning White Paper will completely rewrite the English planning system. But while the TCPA is clear that the existing system needs to change, we are deeply concerned that the proposals will undermine local democracy, marginalise local councils and fail to achieve the kind of high quality places that the government is committed to delivering.

'The TCPA has consistently set out a number of tests for the planning White Paper but none of these have been met. It's particularly disappointing that the comprehensive programme of reform laid out by the Raynsford Review hasn’t been taken up by government.'

Victoria Hills, chief executive of the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI), said: 'The policy paper published by the government today represents a massive change to the planning system. There are some major propositions contained within the document that will not only require the government to work hand-in-hand with the planning profession to implement, but will also demand some serious resourcing.'

Robert Jenrick

Says MHCLG: 'The landmark changes will transform a system that has long been criticised for being too sluggish in providing housing for families, key workers and young people and too ineffectual in obligating developers to properly fund the infrastructure – such as schools, roads and GP surgeries – to support them.'

Responding to the proposals, Cllr James Jamieson, Chairman of the Local Government Association, said: 'Councils are committed to ensuring new homes are built and communities have quality places to live. It is vital that these are delivered through a locally-led planning system with public participation at its heart which gives communities the power to ensure new developments are of a high standard, built in the right places, and include affordable homes. We also need to ensure that new homes are supported by new funding for community infrastructure such as schools, playgrounds and roads.

“Nine in 10 applications are approved by councils with more than a million homes given planning permission over the last decade yet to be built. The system needs to ensure planning permissions are built. Any loss of local control over developments would be a concern. It would deprive communities of the ability to define the area they live in and know best and risk giving developers the freedom to ride roughshod over local areas.

“We will need to look properly at these proposals in detail, but councils share the aspiration of improving the current planning system to provide greater certainty for communities, encourage brownfield development, to deliver better infrastructure and increase local involvement.

“It is vital that Government fully engages with and takes advantage of the expertise in local government to ensure that their aspirations of an improved system works in practice. We look forward to responding to this consultation in detail and working with government to ensure any reforms improve the system and protect the rights of communities to shape the areas they live in.

“If we are to truly fix our chronic housing shortage, councils need the tools, powers and flexibilities to plan for and deliver the quality homes and places communities need."

Cllr Mark Crane, District Councils’ Network lead member for stronger economies, said “Getting the country building desperately-needed homes again will be a vital part of the national recovery from coronavirus, and district councils stand shovel-ready to deliver.

“But we cannot compromise on the quality of new homes and places and side-line public consultation, which we fear will be the consequence of the Government’s planning reforms.

“District councils and their local communities continue to grant nine in 10 planning permissions, while tens of thousands of homes with planning permission remainlg unbuilt – the housing delivery system is broken, not the planning system.

“To tackle the housing crisis, councils need to be given the funding to invest in infrastructure and the powers to build homes that are green, high quality, and affordable.”

The proposals, says the government, will embrace the following principles:

  • Local communities will be consulted from the very beginning of the planning process. By harnessing the latest technology through online maps and data, the whole system will be made more accessible.
  • Valued green spaces will be protected for future generations by allowing for more building on brownfield land.
  • All new streets will be tree-lined.
  • Much-needed homes will be built quicker by ensuring local housing plans are developed and agreed in 30 months – down from the current 7 years.
  • Every area will have a local plan in place – currently only 50% of local areas has a plan to build more homes.
  • The planning process to be overhauled and replaced with a clearer, rules based system. Currently around a third of planning cases that go to appeal are overturned at appeal.
  • The creation of a fast-track system for beautiful buildings and establishing local design guidance for developers to build and preserve beautiful communities.
  • All new homes to be ‘zero carbon ready’, with no new homes delivered under the new system needed to be retrofitted under the commitment to net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
  • A new and simpler system of developer contributions will ensure private firms play their part in funding the new infrastructure and affordable homes that should accompany new building.
  • A new simpler national levy will replace the current system of developer contributions 'which often causes delay'. Section 106 agreements and the Community Infrastructure Levy will be replaced with a new Infrastructure Levy that will be a fixed proportion of the value of the development, above a set threshold, helping to deliver more affordable housing.
  • Revenues obtained will be spent locally on projects such as new roads, upgraded playgrounds and discounted homes for local, first-time buyers.

'The current system has shown itself to be unfavourable to small businesses,' says the White Paper, 'with the proportion of new homebuilding that small businesses lead on 'dropping drastically from 40% 30 years ago, to just 12% today.' It says that 'recent studies show smaller firms feel the complexities of the planning process and its associated risks, delays and costs are the key challenges they face in homebuilding'.

Robert Jenrick said:'Our complex planning system has been a barrier to building the homes people need; it takes 7 years to agree local housing plans and 5 years just to get a spade in the ground.

'These once in a generation reforms will lay the foundations for a brighter future, providing more homes for young people and creating better quality neighbourhoods and homes across the country. We will cut red tape, but not standards, placing a higher regard on quality, design and the environment than ever before. Planning decisions will be simple and transparent, with local democracy at the heart of the process.

'As we face the economic effects of the pandemic, now is the time for decisive action and a clear plan for jobs and growth. Our reforms will create thousands of jobs, lessen the dominance of big builders in the system, providing a major boost for small building companies across the country.'

The Housing Secretary also confirmed that the First Homes scheme will provide newly-built homes at a 30% discount for local people, key workers and first-time buyers. The discount will be locked into the home in perpetuity, ensuring future buyers can continue to benefit from it.

Following the publication of Planning for the Future, the government will now consult with planners, lawyers and local government experts on the proposals, as well as interest groups and residents.