Planning White Paper - Planning for the Future
On 6th August 2020 the Government published the long awaited planning white paper- Planning for the Future for consultation. The document sets out the Government’s intentions and proposals for the long term reform of the planning system in England. This was published alongside another consultation document, which proposes a number of more immediate changes to planning policy and regulations.
This is the first planning white paper to be published since 2007 and following the appointment of Jack Airey, the author of the controversial Policy Exchange paper “Rethinking the Planning System for 21st Century” as the New Housing And Planning Special Advisor to No.10 earlier this year, there has been much speculation about what the white paper will include. The inclusion of forewards in the document from both the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, and the Secretary of State, Robert Jenrick, highlights the importance of the proposals to the Government.
Planning for the Future certainly includes some very interesting proposals to try and create a significantly simpler, faster and more predictable system, which if implemented would transform elements of the planning system. However, there is a distinct lack of detail in some parts of the document and as a result the paper poses as many questions as it does answers. Ultimately, the devil will be in the detail once the legislation and guidance is published in the future.
This briefing note is intended to provide a summary of the key proposals in the consultation documents it is not comprehensive and should you wish to discuss or need further information then please do not hesitate to contact our team.
Planning for the Future
As outlined above, the planning white paper proposes significant reforms of the planning system, which if they come forward would require amendments to primary and secondary legislation. The proposals seek to streamline and modernise the planning process through digitalisation, bring a new focus to design and sustainability, improve the system of developer contributions to infrastructure, and ensure more land is available for development where it is needed. However, to achieve greater certainty and speed in the planning process the proposals seek to move towards a rule based system rather than the current discretionary system, which either love it or hate it, gives flexibility and allows creativity and innovation.
The document is split into three pillars; planning for development, planning for beautiful and sustainable places and planning for infrastructure and connected places with 24 proposals in total.
Pillar 1: Planning for development
The proposals set out in pillar one outline the most fundamental changes to the planning system focused on changes to the local plan process and decision making of development proposals. In summary, the proposals include:
- Development management policies to be set at a national level in the NPPF, and turn local plans away from general policies to specific development standards using design codes reflecting local character of an area;
- Local Plans should be subject to a single statutory “sustainable development” test, replacing the existing tests of soundness;
- 30-month process for the publication and adoption of new style local plans and all plans will need to be reviewed every 5 years;
- Digitalisation and standardisation of Local Plans, using mapping technology and standard templates;
- Improving the efficiency of the planning application process through the use of technology and enforcing statutory determination deadlines of 8 weeks and 13 weeks. Planning application fees to be returned if a decision is not made within the statutory timetable;
- Neighbourhood plans will be retained but their scope and remit is likely to change;
- No changes to the existing policy for protecting the Green Belt are proposed;
- A standard method for establishing housing requirement figures which ensures enough land is released in the areas where affordability is worst. The housing requirement would factor in land constraints and opportunities to more effectively use land, through densification where appropriate, to ensure that the land is identified in the most appropriate areas and housing targets are met;
- Housing targets for local authorities will be set nationally and the responsibility of individual authorities to allocate land suitable for housing to meet the requirement;
- The duty to cooperate is proposed to be removed.
The proposals also include a type of zoning, albeit not necessarily the type of zoning currently taking place elsewhere in the world. The document outlines that Local Plans should be simplified and should identify three types of land – Growth areas suitable for substantial development, Renewal areas suitable for development, and areas that are protected (which includes green belt and conservation areas).
Areas identified as Growth areas (suitable for development) would automatically be granted outline planning permission for the principle of development, while automatic approvals would also be available for pre-established development types in other areas suitable for building.
Where the local plan has identified land for development, planning decisions should focus on resolving outstanding issues – not the principle of development. Detailed planning permission could be secured through a reformed reserved matters process, a local development order, prepared by the LPA or, for very large sites such as new settlements, through the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects regime.
In Renewal areas there would be a general presumption in favour of development with automatic approval if schemes meet design and other approval requirements; a faster planning application process; or a local or neighbourhood development order.
In areas where development is restricted (Protected areas) any development proposals would come forward as now through planning applications being made to the local authority and assessed against policies set out in the National Planning Policy Framework.
It would be possible, albeit the emphasis in the document is in exceptional circumstances, to make planning applications in growth and renewal areas if they do not come forward in accordance with the Local Plan. These would be judged against the policies of the NPPF.
Pillar 2: Planning for beautiful and sustainable places
This section of the paper has clearly been informed by some of the principles and recommendations published in the report published earlier this year by the Building Better Building Beautiful Commission and seeks to build upon the National Design Guide published in October last year.
In summary, the white paper outlines the following proposals for pillar two:
- The Government want design guidance and codes to be prepared locally with community involvement (weight will only be given to these documents if they have had effective input from local communities), and ensure that codes are more binding on decisions about development;
- National guidance contained within the National Design Guide, National Model Design Code and the revised Manual for Streets should have a direct bearing on the design of new communities;
- The Government wish to set up a body to support the delivery of provably “locally-popular” design codes (similar to CABE which was abolished in 2010), and proposes that each authority should have a chief officer for design and place-making;
- Government will look at how Homes England’s activities and programmes can give greater weight to design quality and environmental standards;
- Introduction of a fast-track for beauty through changes to national policy and legislation, to incentivise and accelerate high quality development which reflects local character and preferences;
- The proposals set out that Growth areas will have design guides and codes prepared for them. National “pattern books” will be used within renewal areas to allow development proposals to be built using permitted development rights;
- Conserving and enhancing historic buildings and areas will continue and the Government wishes to review and update the planning framework for listed buildings and conservation areas, to ensure their significance is conserved while allowing, where appropriate, sympathetic changes to support their continued use and address climate change;
- The Government wants to look at the role local planning authorities can play in setting energy efficiency standards for new build development to help achieve net zero by 2050;
- Changes to the assessing environmental impacts is proposed by creating a simpler and quicker framework.
Pillar 3: Planning for infrastructure and connected places
This is the shortest of the three pillars and lacks detail despite proposing fundamental changes to CIL and S106 agreements. In summary, the white paper outlines:
- The creation of the ‘Infrastructure Levy’;
- This means Community Infrastructure Levy is proposed to be charged as a fixed proportion of the development value above a threshold, with a mandatory nationally-set rate or rates and the current system of planning obligations abolished;
- The new charge would be based upon a flat-rate, value-based charge, set nationally, at either a single rate, or at area specific rates. Revenues would continue to be collected and spent locally;
- Local authorities would be able to borrow against Infrastructure Levy revenues to forward fund infrastructure and more freedom could be given to local authorities over how they spend the infrastructure levy;
- The scope of the Infrastructure Levy could be extended to capture change of use through permitted development rights, potentially capturing conversions of offices to residential use and new demolition a rebuild rights, even if no additional floorspace was created;
- With the proposed removal of S106 obligations, the reformed Infrastructure Levy should deliver affordable housing provision but the detail/mechanisms of how this is achieved is yet to be provided.
Changes to the current planning system
Given that the primary and secondary legislation and guidance documents required to take forward the proposals in the planning white paper will take a number of years to come forward the Government has also published a consultation document, which sets out some important proposals to improve the effectiveness of the current planning system.
The four main proposals set out in this document are as follows:
- Changes to the standard method for assessing local housing need;
- Securing of First Homes through developer contributions in the short term until the transition to a new system (following the consultation on First Homes earlier this year); Supporting small and medium-sized builders by temporarily lifting the small sites threshold below which developers do not need to contribute to affordable housing; and
- Extending the current Permission in Principle to major development.
The consultation on the white paper runs until 29th October and the consultation on the changes to the current planning system closes on 1st October 2020.