Planning for the future – Article #3

27th August 2020
By Grant Leggett

The government’s white paper Planning for the future seeks a “significantly simpler, faster and more predictable system” through a number of high-level reforms which seek to streamline the planning process. Boyer have reviewed the proposed amendments to the system and assessed how these could have impacted a number real life projects that we have worked on in recent years. This is the latest article in a series of four which considers the implications on a range of projects.

Would the Zoned system proposed in the White Paper stifle or prevent sustainable development not anticipated or foreseen at the Local Plan stage?

Boyer London recently secured permission to regenerate a large industrial site for over 700 homes along with a considerable employment offer and new public realm, including integrating the site into the fabric of the local area and opening the site up via new public routes. The development delivered 35% affordable housing and was considered by both the Local Planning Authority and the Greater London Authority to be sustainable development that delivered sufficient public benefit to be granted as a departure from the Local Plan, the departure being that it allowed residential development in an area safeguarded for industrial use.

Had the site been considered under the proposed White Paper Local Plan Process, we expect it would have been identified within a Growth Zone or Renewal Zone. In either case, due to its status as safeguarded industrial land, the Zoning and any Design Code that accompanied it would likely have indicated it could be developed for industrial uses only; perhaps in buildings of 3-4 storeys in height. Once that Zoning was adopted it would have been locked into the Local Plan for at least 5 years, until a new Plan was developed.

Indeed that is not far from what actually happened on the site; when we first began promoting the site for mixed-use regeneration the emerging Local Plan at the time was considered too advanced to re-designate the land for mixed-use, and we were initially told that we’d have to wait until the next Local Plan iteration to release it from its industrial designation and free it for a mixed-use regeneration. Instead we pursued a Departure application through a process of Masterplanning, and were able to secure planning permission on that basis within 4 years.

So would we have had to wait? Under the White Paper proposals would we still be free to make an equivalent of a Departure application subject to a test similar to that in s38(6)? It seems that we would, under which the single test of “sustainable development” would be applied, although with the NPPF as the test in the absence of a suite of Local Plan policies that enabled us to demonstrate such sustainability. Our concern is that in the absence of such detailed policy to test the development’s credentials against, and with only the necessarily high-level wording of the NPPF, it would make similar Departure applications more risky and less likely to be pursued.

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