"No longer fit for human habitation": Rebuilding the planning system from the ground up

Following on from the Queen’s Speech earlier this week, proposals for the long-awaited new planning bill were announced as a follow-up to the white paper released last summer. The proposals include a complete reform of the current planning system - the biggest change in planning since WW2.

‘Planning for the Future’ is intended to be enacted in Autumn this year, proposing several ways to simplify and modernise the planning system. The main approach to streamlining the planning process is to replace the current plan-making law with a ‘zonal’ approach, enabling Local Plans to become much more straightforward.

Land will be divided into three categories: ‘growth areas’, where substantial development will take place; ‘renewal areas’, for gentle densification; and ‘protected areas’, where development will be restricted.

A brief document accompanying the Queen’s Speech confirmed the planning bill’s main element will be ‘changing Local Plans’. Currently, it takes an average of 7 years to update a Local Plan, creating documents that consist of hundreds of pages.

The white paper proposed to reduce these documents by almost two thirds and transform the current process towards a more digital approach, based on data, using interactive maps and other digital tools. There will also be a ‘30-month limit for preparation and adoption’ of the Plans, with stricter sanctions if the target is failed to be met.

One of the highlighted issues with the current system is the level of community engagement and the stages which this occurs. Only roughly 3% of local people engage locally with planning applications. It was proposed the new system would ‘radically re-invent the level of community engagement’ by streamlining the opportunity for consultation. This way, public engagement will be encouraged more at the plan-making stage, whilst limited at the development management stage to deliver a faster application process.

The centrepiece of the Queens Speech announced one of the biggest overhauls to building rules to attempt to boost housebuilding and ease building controls. This will reduce the red tape on new homes, schools and hospitals which will get almost instant permission to start building, said Robert Jenrick the Housing Secretary. Last year just 192,725 homes were built which was significantly short of the Government’s aim for 300,000.

Larger developers are currently favoured in the existing system, with small-medium builders only responsible for 12% of new homes built. This is set to change, with the smaller developers to undertake a ‘substantial’ number of the new builds needed.

With the improvement of infrastructure delivery follows the time for developers to play their part when contributing to local areas. Currently, it takes months to negotiate section 106 agreements to deliver the infrastructure communities require. The new system will reform the current planning obligations to a nationally-set value-based flat rate charge, scrapping s106 agreements and introducing ‘the Infrastructure Levy’. This route will enable local authorities to hold more power over developers and how their contributions are used.

The Government’s desire to ‘build back better’ has been made clear after the setbacks to everyday lives as a result of the coronavirus and the radical changes to the Planning System is aimed to be the first steps in the right direction to doing so.