10 August 2020

Government White Paper: Planning for the Future – Development

The Government has published its White Paper setting out far reaching proposals to reform the planning system with the aim to simplify, speed up and create more certainty in the planning process.

The three pillars of change; Planning for Development, Planning for Beautiful and Sustainable Places and Planning for Infrastructure set out a number of proposals to achieve these aims. This article focuses on some of the key proposals within Planning for Development.

Planning for Development

A number of proposals are submitted under this pillar, of particular focus here are the recommended changes to the local plans and introduction of land 'zoning.'

It is proposed that local plans should focus on allocating enough land for development and renewal in the correct areas, in order that the process for obtaining permission be as simple as possible. Policy would be largely limited to the NPPF only, with the local plans being replaced by web-based and searchable maps.

This new style of local plan will identify three different types of widely discussed land zones:

  1. Growth – areas suitable for 'substantial development' (this term to be defined in policy). This would include land suitable for new settlements, urban extension and redevelopment.
  2. Renewal – areas suitable for development. This would include existing built areas appropriate for smaller scale development. Particular given examples being infilling of residential areas and town centre development. It would also encompass rural areas not otherwise classified under this system.
  3. Protected – it is proposed this would include land and areas with environmental and/or cultural characteristics requiring more stringent controls, for example the Green Belt, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Conservation Areas.

Presumption in Favour and Outline Permission

Growth areas would automatically be granted outline planning permission for the principle of development, with no need to submit an application to test whether the site can be approved. Any land contained within these designated areas will no doubt increase in value as a result. This no doubt will limit the ability to strategically target certain areas of land for those organisations who acquire land with the aim of later being granted permission for development.

Outline permission for the principle of development would be conferred by adoption of the Local Plan. Further details of the permission would be agreed through a streamlined and faster consent route, focusing on good design and site-specific issues. It is unclear whether this 'streamlined' process will mean a reduction in consultation periods for community comment, which is likely to be controversial.

Renewal areas would benefit from a general presumption in favour of development, established in legislation. One of the overarching policy aims of the White Paper is to make the planning system more accessible for smaller-scale developers, however with the value of land in these two zones no doubt increasing it is questionable whether this outcome will in reality be achieved.

In the context of residential development in particular and in light of the recent independent report into permitted-development right housing, should design be the key factor or are quality of life and wellbeing a more appropriate focus - much of which is influenced by location. Whilst a zoning approach could certainly speed up planning applications, it’s not clear how the approach would work in cities where there are protected heritage assets and, in the case of London, protected views.

Statutory Timetable

Local authorities will be required by legislation to meet a timetable for key stages of the process and have 30 months within which to prepare the plan. This is an ambitious timescale, particularly given that a number of local authorities are unable to meet the requirements of the current system. Local authorities will be required to review the plans at least every five years. It is acknowledged that strong professional planners, access to technical expertise and the latest technology will be required to deliver these local plans – an increasing in funding will be fundamental and further clarification of how this will be addressed is needed. It will therefore be interesting to learn whether increased sanctions will be imposed alongside this timescale beyond intervention by the Secretary of State.

The response to this pillar of the White Paper has unsurprisingly been mixed. The aim of digitising the local plans has been widely seen as a positive suggestion, falling into line with the government's aim of making the planning system fit for the 21st century. There will need to be significant investment in local authority technology infrastructure to deliver these reforms, which has been acknowledged in the Paper.

Under the proposed system, how the three categories of land will be drawn up will fundamentally determine how the built environment develops in the foreseeable future and detailed guidance on this process will need to be provided.

The consultation closes on 29 October 2020 and the White Paper can be found here setting out the full range of proposals.

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