The Queen’s Speech indicated that the somewhat contentious proposals to reform the planning system, as expressed through the 2020 Planning White Paper, appear to have been dropped. Instead, the notes which have been published by the Government to accompany the Speech provide that planning reform will feature in the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill rather than a standalone Planning Bill.
The Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill had its first reading in Parliament on 11th May. The Bill provides evidence that the Government recognises that planning is critical to their ambition to level-up the country. With the aim of “driving local growth, empowering local leaders to regenerate their areas, and ensuring that everyone can share in the United Kingdom’s success, the Bill indicates that the planning system will be reformed to give residents more involvement in local development.”
The contents of The Bill have apparently been influenced by the responses to the Government’s 2020 White Paper ‘Planning for the Future’ and contains a number of proposed changes to the planning system. A companion document ‘Levelling Up and Regeneration: Further Information’ was also produced on 11th May.
Timing of the Changes.
The companion document to the Bill indicates that changes to planning procedures will begin to take place from 2024, once the Bill has royal assent and associated regulations and changes to national policy are in place.
The most significant of the changes are summarised below:
1) Local planning authorities would be required to have an area wide design code.
The notes confirm that the Bill would require “all local planning authorities to have a design code in place covering their entire area”.
These area wide codes would act as a framework for which subsequent detailed design codes can come forward.
2) A new levy would replace S106 planning obligations and the Community Infrastructure Levy.
The Bill would replace the current section 106 and the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) regimes with a new Infrastructure Levy. The replacement levy would be set locally rather than nationally, with the objective that the rates would be tailored to local circumstances. Local authorities would be required to prepare infrastructure delivery strategies to outline how they intend to spend the levy.
3) Local plans.
A number of changes would be made to the local plan process. These include the following:
4) Lack of requirement to demonstrate a five-year supply of housing sites.
In the document released alongside the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, the Government confirmed that Councils with up-to-date local plans would no longer need to demonstrate a five-year supply of housing sites in order to fend off speculative planning applications. The Government confirmed its intention to exempt councils with up-to-date plans from the need to show a five-year housing land supply, as required by the current system. The change would be made by one of several alterations to the National Planning Policy Framework that the Government will consult on.
5) The simplification of EIAs.
The notes to the Bill say that “A new system of Environmental Outcomes Reports will replace the EU processes of Environmental Impact Assessment and Strategic Environmental Assessment.”
The notes confirm that the Bill introduces an “outcomes-based approach that will allow the Government to set clear and tangible environmental outcomes which a plan or project is assessed against”.
6) The simplification of Neighbourhood Plan preparation.
A new tool called ‘neighbourhood priorities statements’, would be introduced. This tool would provide communities with a simpler and more accessible way to set out their key priorities and preferences for their local areas. Local authorities will need to take these into account, where relevant, when preparing their local plans for the areas concerned, enabling more communities to better engage in the local plan-making process.
7) Increase community participation via a ‘Street Votes’ system.
Residents would be permitted to propose development on their street and hold a vote/referendum on whether it should be given planning permission via a Street Votes system. This would allow neighbours to hold referendums on the style and size of extensions, new homes and conversions on their street. The Government believes that this will provide a positive incentive for neighbours to consider the potential for development. Details remain unclear; however, the Government insists that residents will not be able to veto planning proposals.
8) Decision-makers to face a new duty to act in line with the development plan and national policies.
On ‘the planning application process’, the notes confirm that the Bill will impose “a new duty on decision makers to make planning decisions in accordance with the development plan and national development management policies unless material considerations strongly indicate otherwise”.
9) Strengthen the powers of planning enforcement.
The notes confirm that the Bill strengthens the powers available to local planning authorities to deal with individuals who fail to abide by the rules and process of the planning system.
This would include facilitating enforcement action by closing existing loopholes which can be exploited to prolong unauthorised development, allowing more time for the investigation of breaches, introducing enforcement warning notices, making the enforcement timescales that currently apply more consistent, and increasing fines.
10) Registered parks and gardens would get the same level of planning protection as listed buildings.
On ‘protecting heritage’, the notes says that the Bill will ensure that designated heritage assets, such as registered parks and gardens, World Heritage Sites, protected wreck sites, and registered battlefields, enjoy the same statutory protection in the planning system as listed buildings and conservation areas.
11) The Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) system to be streamlined.
CPOs would be streamlined and power would be granted to local authorities to use CPOs for regeneration purposes. According to the Government, these changes “would empower local decision making and improve transparency regarding local authorities’ power to acquire brownfield land compulsorily for regeneration in their area. The measures include changes to publicity requirements around CPOs and how inquiry procedures are held.
12) Revitalisation of the High Street.
Planning authorities would have power to instigate auctions to take leases on vacant high street properties in town centres and on high streets for leases from one to five years to attract new tenants. The notes confirm these new powers could be exercised at the discretion of local authorities, based on their local context and need, but only on properties which have been vacant for over 12 months.
13) Land ownership to be made more transparent.
The notes say that the Bill “includes measures that will facilitate a better understanding of who ultimately owns or controls land in England and Wales”, supporting a 2017 Housing White Paper commitment by “collecting and publishing data on contractual arrangements used by developers to control land, such as rights of pre-emption, options, and conditional contracts”.
14) Authorities would be given tools to force developers to complete schemes.
The Bill would make it easier for planning authorities to issue completion notices to developers to require them to complete their projects. In addition, it would introduce commencement notices which would be required when a scheme with planning permission starts on site.
15) Planning application fees would be raised.
The Government intends to increase planning fees for planning applications by up to 35 per cent, subject to consultation, the companion document to the bill states.
16) Powers to require developers to engage with communities pre-application would be made permanent.
The Bill would also enable pre-application engagement with communities to be required before a planning application is submitted, removing the sunset clause, making the powers which currently expire in 2025 permanent.
The companion document also promises new guidance on community engagement in planning, “including the opportunities which digital technology offers”. But it adds that any new digital engagement tools “will sit alongside existing methods of engagement (such as site notices and neighbour letters)”.
Whilst the contents of the Bill propose some important changes to the operation of the current planning system, it is however evident that the proposed legislation represents a step back from the major and somewhat controversial proposed reforms set out in the Planning White Paper produced in 2020.
The proposed changes to the Local Plan and neighbourhood planning process could result in much needed improvements to the way in which Local Plans are produced; the digitisation of the system and provision of more opportunities for engagement, could result in an increased involvement in the planning process by local residents. However, while a laudable aim, this may only be achieved with effective resourcing.
In relation to the proposed Street Votes system, this could provide the local community with a say in how their area is developed. However, it could also lead to a rise in NIMBYism and result in residents objecting to new developments through a resistance to change.
On the whole, it is too early to tell exactly how the proposed legislation will impact the planning system given that no legislation has actually been put forward to Parliament. The devil will be in the detail. What is evident however, is that there are missed opportunities on climate change, sustainable development and housing numbers. We would anticipate that these matters will be clarified through policy changes at the appropriate time.
Should you require any advice on how the proposed legislation could affect your development proposals please contact firstname.lastname@example.org