‘Planning For The Future’ – Government’s White Paper is Published

07 August 2020

Ridge planning team have provided a summary of the key proposed changes within the ‘Planning for the Future’ consultation document and will look at what the implications could be for the development in the future.

Further to the ‘build build build’ speech, the hotly anticipated Planning White Paper was published in the early hours of 6th August. Entitled ‘Planning for the Future’, this consultation seeks views on a package of proposals for reform of the planning system in England to ‘streamline and modernise the planning process, improve outcomes on design and sustainability, reform developer contributions and ensure more land is available for development where it is needed’. This consultation will last until 29th October 2020. An accompanying technical consultation issued to coincide with the White Paper on the proposed review of the standard method of assessing housing need has also been released. Entitled ‘Changes to the Current Planning system’, the deadline for responses is 1st October 2020.

Summary of the ‘Planning For The Future’

Under ‘Three Pillars’ there are 24 proposals provided, each of which have a list of questions.  In summary these proposals are as follows:

PILLAR ONE – Planning for Development

Proposal 1:

The role of land use plans should be simplified. It is proposed that Local Plans should identify three types of land – Growth areas suitable for substantial development, Renewal areas suitable for development, and areas that are Protected.

All areas of land would be put into one of these categories.  This new-style Local Plan would comprise an interactive web-based map of the administrative area where data and policies are easily searchable, with a key and accompanying text. Areas and sites would be annotated and colour-coded in line with their Growth, Renewal or Protected designation, with explanatory descriptions set out in the key and accompanying text, as appropriate to the category. In Growth and Renewal areas, the key and accompanying text would set out suitable development uses, as well as limitations on height and/or density as relevant. For Protected areas, the key and accompanying text would explain what is permissible by cross-reference to the National Planning Policy Framework.

Proposal 2:

Development management policies established at national scale and an altered role for Local Plans.

With the primary focus of plan-making on identifying areas for development and protection, it is proposed that development management policy contained in the plan would be restricted to clear and necessary site or area-specific requirements, including broad height limits, scale and/or density limits for land included in Growth areas and Renewal areas, established through the accompanying text. The National Planning Policy Framework would become the primary source of policies for development management.

Proposal 3:

Local Plans should be subject to a single statutory “sustainable development” test, replacing the existing tests of soundness.

A simpler test, as well as more streamlined plans, should mean fewer requirements for assessments that add disproportionate delay to the plan-making process.  The Government claims that the new-style digital Local Plan would also help local planning authorities to engage with strategic cross-boundary issues, and use data-driven insights to assess local infrastructure needs to help decide what infrastructure is needed and where it should be located.

Proposal 4:

A standard method for establishing housing requirement figures which ensures enough land is released in the areas where affordability is worst, to stop land supply being a barrier to enough homes being built. The housing requirement would factor in land constraints and opportunities to use land more effectively, including through densification where appropriate, to ensure that the land is identified in the most appropriate areas and housing targets are met.

As above, a separate consultation on proposed changes to the method for assessing local housing need is included within the document entitled ‘Changes to the Current Planning System’.  It is proposed that the standard method would be a means of distributing the national housebuilding target of 300,000 new homes annually, and one million homes by the end of the Parliament.  The standard method would make it the responsibility of individual authorities to allocate land suitable for housing to meet the requirement, and they would continue to have choices about how to do so.

Proposal 5:

Areas identified as Growth areas (suitable for substantial 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.

Proposal 6:

Decision-making should be faster and more certain, with firm deadlines, and make greater use of digital technology.

The Government has pointed out that there should be a clear incentive on the local planning authority to determine an application within the statutory time limits. This could involve the automatic refund of the planning fee for the application if they fail to determine it within the time limit.

Proposal 7:

Local Plans should be visual and map-based, standardised, based on the latest digital technology, and supported by a new template.

Proposal 8:

Local authorities and the Planning Inspectorate will be required through legislation to meet a statutory timetable for key stages of the process, and sanctions will be considered for those who fail to do so.

Proposal 9:

Neighbourhood Plans should be retained as an important means of community input, and communities will be supported to make better use of digital tools.

Proposal 10:

A stronger emphasis on build out through planning.

The Government proposes to make it clear in the revised National Planning Policy Framework that the masterplans and design codes for sites prepared for substantial development (discussed under Pillar Two) should seek to include a variety of development types by different builders which allow more phases to come forward together.

PILLAR TWO – Planning for Beautiful and Sustainable Places.

Proposal 11:

To make design expectations more visual and predictable, the Government expects design guidance and codes to be prepared locally with community involvement and ensure that codes are more binding on decisions about development.

Proposal 12:

To support the transition to a planning system which is more visual and rooted in local preferences and character, the Government will set up a body to support the delivery of provably locally-popular design codes, and propose that each authority should have a chief officer for design and place-making.

Proposal 13:

To further embed national leadership on delivering better places, the Government will consider how Homes England’s strategic objectives can give greater emphasis to delivering beautiful places.

Proposal 14:

The Government intends to introduce 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.

Proposal 15:

The Government intend to amend the National Planning Policy Framework to ensure that it targets those areas where a reformed planning system can most effectively play a role in mitigating and adapting to climate change and maximising environmental benefits.

Proposal 16:

The Government intend to design a quicker, simpler framework for assessing environmental impacts and enhancement opportunities, that speeds up the process while protecting and enhancing the most valuable and important habitats and species in England.

Proposal 17:

Conserving and enhancing our historic buildings and areas in the 21st century.

Proposal 18: 

To complement the Government’s planning reforms, they will facilitate ambitious improvements in the energy efficiency standards for buildings to help deliver their world-leading commitment to net-zero by 2050.

PILLAR THREE – Planning for Infrastructure and Connected Places.

Proposal 19:

The Community Infrastructure Levy should be reformed 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.

This would be based upon a flat-rate, valued-based charge, set nationally, at either a single rate, or at area-specific rates. The single rate, or area-specific rates, would be set nationally and would aim to increase revenue levels nationally when compared to the current system. Revenues would continue to be collected and spent locally.  To better support the timely delivery of infrastructure, the Government would also allow local authorities to borrow against Infrastructure Levy revenues so that they could forward fund infrastructure.

Proposal 20:

The scope of the Infrastructure Levy could be extended to capture changes of use through permitted development rights.

Proposal 21:

The reformed Infrastructure Levy should deliver affordable housing provision.

Proposal 22:

More freedom could be given to local authorities over how they spend the Infrastructure Levy.

The Government has highlighted the importance of there being a strong link between where development occurs and where funding is spent.

Proposal 23:

As the Government develops their final proposals for this new planning system, they will develop a comprehensive resources and skills strategy for the planning sector to support the implementation of their reforms.

The cost of operating the new planning system should be principally funded by the beneficiaries of planning gain – landowners and developers – rather than the national or local taxpayer.

Proposal 24:

The Government will seek to strengthen enforcement powers and sanctions

Initial reaction from the Planning team at Ridge.

The publication of these consultation documents is significant.  Any reforms to the planning system to such a significant level as that proposed will have consequences on all, developers, business, local authorities, housebuilders and individuals.  The changes outlined could radically transform the current planning system and help bring about a more streamlined system, reducing red tape. Whilst concerns have been expressed that the proposals could pave the way for the ‘next generation of slums’ (RIBA) along with a dilution of democratic oversight and a reduction in affordable housing (TCPA), we at Ridge welcome the Government’s objective to speed up sustainable housing delivery and focus on good design and community engagement. Furthermore, the reforms effectively propose a new plan-led system which will be more inclusive and, once in place, will allow for quicker decision-making and delivery of homes as the principle of development will be established. With regard to establishing housing targets for each authority area, we would welcome a method which provides more certainty and we believe the proposed reforms have the potential to do this.

We do, however, also believe that the Devil will be in the detail and more information is required before we can fully predict the practical implications of these proposed reforms.  It will be interesting to see how the Government’s objectives to ‘streamline and modernise the planning process, improve outcomes on design and sustainability, reform developer contributions and ensure more land is available for development where it is needed’ evolve through refining the process as they pass through the consultation and statutory process of passing legislation.

In the meantime, if you would like to discuss how these proposals could impact on your business or how we can assist in preparing your consultation then please contact the Ridge Planning Team.

A full copy of the ‘Planning for the Future’ and ‘Changes to the Current Planning System’ can be accessed below.

Planning for the Future

Changes to the Current Planning System

Key contacts

Paul Fong (Partner)

Giles Brockbank  (Partner)