Planning Reform. The Committee has its say…

10 June 2021

At a glance, it offers a welcome insight into political feeling toward the White Paper as it stands and offers up some fairly substantial challenges to the vision set out last August.

Sam Elliott Planner London

To a mix of intrigue and trepidation, the Government launched its consultations on future changes to the planning system back in August 2020, including its ‘Planning for the Future’ White Paper. In the time since, there has been much reflection across the sector as to how effective our current planning system really is and what, if any, changes could improve it. Are the familiar woes of cost, delay, and uncertainty the result of a fundamentally broken system or simply the result of a lack of resources? Do the basic principles of the White Paper take us any closer to addressing these concerns?

As the debate continues, we might have lost sight of the actual White Paper’s progress and the results of the consultation. Indeed, if there is one thing the majority can agree on, it is the considerable lack of detail about elements of the Government’s proposals, that almost a year from publication, could do with fleshing out. Currently there has been no official government response to the consultation, despite it receiving 44,000 written comments, nor a formalised Planning Bill (expected in the autumn) to review, so what has changed?

Well, at 00.01hrs Thursday morning, the report on “The future of the planning system in England by the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee was published. This is a review of the White Paper by committee MPs and provides an indication of how the basic ideas of the White Paper might be received, should a Planning Bill come to fruition.

In sync with the public response, the Committee finds the White Paper generally lacking in detail throughout, but the findings also challenge the Government’s approach in several notable areas. Although not exhaustive, I’ve summarised a selection of the Committee’s recommendations below:

  • The Three Zones – There must be more detail to know if it will work. The government should re-consider the three-zone approach.  If insistent, even more zones should be identified, principally within ‘renewal zones’, but also to distinguish ‘highly protected’ and ‘protected’ zones. Greater detail is required in local plans to assure developers they can qualify for ‘permission in principle’.
  • Local Plans – The statutory requirement for local authorities to have a concise, up-to-date local plan is welcomed, but ‘’The Government should extend the 30-month timeframe for the initial production of Local Plans as it is too short for creating new plans from scratch’’. The Committee also recommends a straightforward mechanism for local authorities to undertake quick updates to Local Plans every two years.
  • Housing Delivery – The Committee supports the Government’s abandonment of the proposed housing need formula, but stresses that more detail is still required on the approach that replaces it. It recommends that the “Government should lay out the evidential basis for its 300,000 housing units a year target and how it will achieve it, both by tenure and by location.’’
  • Carrot & Stick ‘’The Government should set a limit of 18 months following discharge of planning conditions for work to commence on site. If work has not progressed to the satisfaction of the local planning authority, then the planning permission may be revoked’’.
  • Funding Infrastructure – The Committee supports the proposal to replace the current CIL arrangements, but is not yet convinced about replacing S106, especially as they see S106 as protecting affordable housing.
  • Green Belt – ‘’a review should examine the purpose of the Green Belt, including whether it continues to serve that purpose, how the public understand it, what should be criteria for inclusion, and what additional protections might be appropriate’’.
  • Protecting Heritage - The Committee “recommend that the Government publish an assessment of the impact of its proposed changes on historic buildings and sites.”
  • PD Inquiry – Considerable criticism was received on the perceived negative impact of PD rights. The committee have now begun a separate inquiry which will make recommendations on this subject.

At 108 pages, plus appendices, this is a substantial review, of which I am sure a longer reaction will follow. At a glance, it offers a welcome insight into political feeling toward the White Paper as it stands and offers up some fairly substantial challenges to the vision set out last August. It remains to be seen if the Government take note.