The pressure to reform

20 March 2024

Charlotte Hunter Communications Associate London

Spring or Autumn 2024? The question that has been on everyone’s mind probably ever since Rishi Sunak took over the mantle of Government in October 2022. Everyone is talking about it, especially as they consider the opportunity to usher in a change of direction for the country with Labour widely expected to win the General Election. But with the country facing so many problems, with a faltering economy, over-stretched services and local authorities facing (and in unfortunate circumstances declaring) bankruptcy, is it too much to hope that a General Election will result in a changed and revitalised planning system?

For many, reforming the planning system will traditionally be low down on the list of priorities for a future government. From my own personal experience though, it is interesting to see just how much the issue of planning has infiltrated every-day discussion amongst family and friends.

As a sector, we have become used to the rise of so-called NIMBYISM, with much of the talk around planning in everyday life focussed on opposing what is often seen as the next imposition of a developer on a local area. But a shift has certainly started to happen, with people increasingly understanding the wider implications of a stalling construction sector, hampered by a struggling planning system.

Much of this change is coming from the younger generations, particularly as the ramifications of a lack of housing supply and the fallout from the Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng emergency budget have manifested. I for one was heartened to see the pressure that the young Liberal Democrats put on their leaders at the Liberal Democrat conference last Autumn to change tack in what they perceived as the older party members’ resolute opposition to delivering houses.

But how can the planning system change?

Of course, we are all looking to Labour to try to answer that question as we generally expect them to form the next government. On Wednesday 13th March we started to get some answers as the Shadow Housing Minister, Matthew Pennycook, spoke at a Westminster Hall debate in Westminster Hall.

Pennycook made it clear that we should not expect a 'dismantling’ of the planning system. Planning applications will still be considered and decided upon in the same way for example – no zonal system will be introduced. But we can expect an overhaul of policy. Labour has already said it will reverse the recent reforms of the NPPF introduced by the Government, including the reforms to the standard method for housing need calculation.

Whilst Pennycook was able to provide a bit more by way of detail for those in the sector keen to understand Labour’s proposals for planning reform, it is clear that we will need to wait at least until the Party’s election manifesto is launched to see more meat on the bones. So, we wait. But whilst we wait, the planning system falters on, and increasingly the voices of those that have been let down by the preset system get louder. Or so we hope.