Guides & Advice

Planning White Paper | Planning for the Future

Published: 6th August 2020
Area: Real Estate & Planning

Planning White Paper | Planning for the Future

Today (Thursday 6 August) saw the launch of the new government White Paper - Planning for the Future

The overarching thrust is to overhaul the planning system, bring it into the 21st Century, and to make the system “simpler, faster and more predictable”, by “cutting red tape, but not standards”.  There is to be an increased focus on technology, with interactive and accessible map-based online systems replacing notices on lampposts.

What’s wrong with the current planning system?

The paper starts by highlighting issues in the current planning system, such as:

  • the length of time it takes to adopt a Local Plan;
  • the complexity of assessing housing need and viability;
  • the inherent discretionary nature of the system; and
  • the simple fact that not enough homes are being built.

The paper also seeks to highlight the government’s changes to the system since 2010[1] and the abolition of regional strategies, unelected regional planning bodies and empowering communities through neighbourhood planning, and the simplification of the system through the introduction of the National Planning Policy Framework – making no mention of the Planning Practice Guidance.

What are the proposed changes?

Local Plans

The proposed changes are for simplified Local Plans, which will be required to categorise land under three separate categories:

  • Growth - areas suitable for substantial development, where outline approval would be automatically secured;
  • Renewal - areas suitable for some development, such as ‘gentle densification’; and
  • Protected - areas where development is restricted.

Local Plans are to set ‘clear rules’, rather than general policies for development - although development plan policies were already key to decision making).

What is more relevant for Local Plans, is that the underpinning evidence base appears likely to go, with a single statutory “sustainability development” test coming in instead.

Going digital

Standardisation and digitisation are both being pushed, which should allow for better transparency and access for all.  Similarly, moving public consultation online may speed the process, albeit as COVID has highlighted, the availability and accessibility of online resources is not currently equal across society, with the elderly and those on very low incomes suffering disproportionately.  If notices on lampposts are to go, then the opportunities for some to engage in planning may also be diminished.

Beautiful buildings and communities

The reforms will also mean the creation of a ‘fast-track system’ for approving the design of beautiful buildings – with communities at the heart of the new system. However, given that beauty is subjective, it remains to be seen how this sits with the new clear rules which are designed to give certainty.

New Infrastructure Levy

Section106 agreements and the Community Infrastructure Levy are to go, to be replaced by an Infrastructure Levy which is intended to sweep away delay caused by negotiating s.106 contributions and arguments over viability.  However, at present this seems fraught with challenges, with the prospect of “average build costs” being used as a means of assessing the value of a development.

Given the huge disparity in build costs between a heavily contaminated brownfield site and an uncontaminated greenfield one, or between e.g. central London and central Lincolnshire, this would seem to be prone to unintended consequences, and could lead to developers seeking to find ways to reduce actual build costs to increase profitability.

Contractual arrangements

It’s also worth noting that the White Paper sets out a desire to consult upon improving the data held on contractual arrangements used to control land, to “promote competition amongst developers”.  Whether a push to record private contracts on the public record survives the consultation remains to be seen.

Strengthening enforcement powers for local authorities

The paper talks about strengthening enforcement powers for local authorities.  Given that these are already extensive, it is unclear what else needs to be done, albeit the promise of introducing stronger powers to address “intentional unauthorised development” could well see a great deal of debate as to whether or not any unauthorised development was deliberate.

What are the next steps?

The consultation runs until 29 October 2020, during which time the government will consult with local government experts, planners, lawyers and the local community on the proposals. Judging by some of the proposals, the ramifications of the white paper could last a lot longer.

[1] Which a pedant might highlight were therefore begun under the Coalition government rather than the current Conservative one 

Contact us
For advice or guidance on how these proposals may affect your developments, or on any other legal planning query, contact Paul Wakefield in our planning team.

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