White Paper Series: “It’s planning, Jim, but not as we know it…” – turning ‘radical reform’ into reality
11 September 2020
It should not be forgotten that our old friend ‘S54a’ of the 1990 Town & Country Planning Act was enacted to give primacy to assessing development proposals in accordance with the development plan. That was thirty years ago, and in truth it has never delivered on its promises.
Dan Templeton Director Bristol
Much attention remains on understanding the proposals set out in the White Paper, commenting on them and seeking to influence the Government’s thinking.
There’s a lot to take in, but attention should also be given to how these reforms are to be taken forward, and whether the radical changes will result in a workable planning system.
In my view, there’s a lot to like within the proposals – practitioners across the land have long bemoaned the behemoth that the planning system has become, but how and when do the Government intend to deliver the changes?
It should not be forgotten that our old friend ‘S54a’ of the 1990 Town & Country Planning Act was enacted to give primacy to assessing development proposals in accordance with the development plan. That was thirty years ago, and in truth it has never delivered on its promises. Now we have another chance to deliver change.
In my experience, every new or emboldened Government promises to ‘speed up the planning process’, and we have spent the past few weeks digesting the latest attempt in the White Paper.
So with these new reforms, there will need to be new Primary Legislation (likely in the form of a new Town and Country Planning Act), together with a raft of Secondary Legislation (Statutory Instruments and Regulations) and a new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), with national policies governing development management. Parliament and the Whitehall mandarins are going to be busy turning the White Paper into a workable and legally robust system – there will be no shortage of eagle-eyed lobbyists and practitioners ready to correct any missteps.
This is particularly challenging given the White Paper suggests that local plans prepared in accordance with the new system are expected to be in place by the end of the current Parliament (i.e. no later than 1 May 2024).
Working back from that date, and accepting (with a degree of scepticism) that local plans may take up to 30 months to prepare and adopt, this means that the necessary legislation will have to be in place by November 2021. In effect, this means that the Government has set its own goal of just over one year following the close of the current consultation process to turn this into reality. At least there are no other pressing Parliamentary matters to resolve in the interim…
The White Paper itself acknowledges that it has “not comprehensively covered every aspect” and the detail will need further development. With a clear majority, and continued support from both Number 10 and 11, we are likely to see the Government’s proposals pushed through quickly, so the time to act and engage with the process is now. The current White Paper consultation closes on 29 October, and we have been assured that all responses will be considered.
For local authorities, the challenges will include starting to ‘re-purpose’ both officer and member resources, so that they are ready to invest a greater proportion of time in preparing plans and a reduction in time undertaking their development management functions. The push towards more unitary authorities and regionally elected mayors is also likely to continue apace.
But there’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip’, and we have seen other brave reforms gradually watered down. Any changes to the planning system tend to actually result in it slowing down, at least while the new system ‘beds in’. Given the political and socio-economic challenges we have all faced, close attention will be required as the new planning world takes shape, and of course we encourage everyone to engage with it.
At Planning Potential, our team of experts can help to make sure your views on the White Paper are expressed persuasively. Please do get in touch, we’d love to discuss our collective thoughts.