A Government rethink on the controversial proposed planning reform

07 October 2021

In a major cabinet reshuffle, Robert Jenrick MP has been replaced by the Rt Hon. Michael Gove MP (SoS), at the same time as it has become apparent that the controversial planning reform, as demonstrated in the planning White Paper, has been put on hold. The new Planning Bill, which was expected over the coming weeks, was given very little reference during the Tory Party conference. Instead, emphasis was placed upon ‘levelling up’ signalling that this would mean investment in regeneration projects with a focus on neglected brownfield sites.

Many are of the opinion that the appointment of Gove as housing secretary is likely to mean the government will substantially water down its controversial planning white paper changes. This planning reform re-think may be the consequence of criticisms from a range of MPs, notably the former PM Theresa May MP, who have warned of the impact White Paper proposals (and permitted development rights that create dwellings) may have across many traditional Tory areas in the south east.

This is likely to mean a move away from some of the more controversial aspects of the White Paper, potentially including top-down housing targets, as well as proposals that would reduce powers for committees to refuse development on sites designated for ‘growth’ and ‘renewal’.

The Department is now expected to undertake a full review of the White Paper proposals in consultation with backbenchers. In the meantime, the Government, during the Tory party conference, emphasised the need for ‘levelling up’, signalling that this would mean investment in regeneration projects with a focus on neglected brownfield sites.

In the Conservative Party conference fringe event (5th October), Gove confirmed for the first time that he is pausing the planning reform process “in order to get the balance right” but acknowledged that the country did “need more homes”.

When asked a direct question regarding the proposed planning reform, Gove continued to confirm

“I just need to take a little bit of time, in order to make sure that we get the balance right […] we do need to reform planning, but there are a number of things that we need to do. The route to having more good homes, more affordable homes is not simply through planning reform to increase supply, there are a range of other things that we need to do, and one of them is investing in regeneration”.

He then talked about the remediation and assembly of large brownfield sites before adding:

“The process doesn’t need to be slow […], but it does mean that we shouldn’t think of improving our planning system and improving the provision of housing through a single big bang approach”.