The Government has published a Planning White Paper called “Planning for the Future”, setting out proposals for “radical reform unlike anything we have seen since the Second World War”. The proposals are aimed at delivering a simpler, faster and more predictable planning system that encourages sustainable, beautiful and high-quality development whilst giving the community a greater say over what gets built in their area. The key proposals are as follows:
A Streamlined Planning Process
Local Plans will identify land under three categories:
- Growth Areas suitable for substantial development where outline planning permission will be automatically secured for certain forms and types of development as set out in the Plan, including new settlements and urban extension sites. Full planning permission will be achieved through a reformed reserved matters process, a Local Development Order or potentially a Development Consent Order.
- Renewal Areas where “gentle densification” and infill is appropriate where there will be a statutory presumption in favour of permission being granted for the uses specified as being suitable in each area. Planning permission will be obtained through a new automatic consent process if the scheme meets design and other prior approval requirements, a faster planning application process or a Local or Neighbourhood Development Order.
- Protected Areas where development is restricted such as the Green Belt, Conservation Areas and areas of open countryside. Development in these areas will need to be subject to a normal planning application.
In Growth and Renewal Areas, it will still be possible for a proposal which is different to the Local Plan to come forward by way of a specific planning application, although this is expected to be the exception to the rule, for instance where there is a change in local circumstances.
New Style Local Plans
The White Paper proposes an altered role for Local Plans with their primary focus being on identifying areas for development and protection as above, rather than generic policies for development management. Local Plans will be assessed against a single statutory “sustainable development” test, replacing the existing tests of soundness. The Government feels that a simpler test, as well as more streamlined plans, should mean fewer requirements for assessments that add disproportionate delay to the plan-making process.
There are also proposals for a more streamlined, engaging plan-making process, including a statutory duty for local authorities to adopt a new Local Plan by a specified date – either 30 months from the legislation being brought into force, or 42 months for local planning authorities who have adopted a Local Plan within the previous three years or where a Local Plan has been submitted to the Secretary of State for examination. This would be accompanied by a requirement for each planning authority to review its Local Plan at least every 5 years. Local planning authorities that fail to do what is required to get their plan in place, or keep it up to date, would be at risk of Government intervention.
A New “Infrastructure Levy”
The Government is proposing the introduction of a new nationally-set value-based flat rate “Infrastructure Levy” which will replace Section 106 obligations and the locally set Community Infrastructure Levy. The new Levy will be charged as a fixed proportion of the final development value above a certain threshold and will be levied at the point of occupation with prevention of occupation being a potential sanction for non-payment. Local authorities will be able to borrow against Infrastructure Levy revenues so that they can forward fund infrastructure. They will also be able to use funds raised through the Levy to secure affordable housing, potentially though in-kind delivery on-site with the difference in value being offset from the final cash liability to the Levy.
The White Paper criticises the existing Community Infrastructure Levy as being inflexible in the face of changing market conditions. Section 106 obligations are said to be uncertain and opaque, with their negotiation giving rise to cost, delay and inconsistency in the planning process. This is not the first time the Government has sought to replace Section 106 obligations, but they have in the past proved resilient due to their flexibility and ability to address the specific infrastructure requirements of particular sites and developments; it is difficult to see how they can be abolished completely.
Other proposals in the White Paper include:
- Measures to increase the use of digital technology in the planning system, including an interactive map-based online system
- The time limit for the determination of planning applications to be a firm deadline, rather than an aspiration, potentially involving the automatic refund of the planning fee or deemed permission
- Standard national planning conditions
- A fast-track system for beautiful buildings and establishing local design guidance and codes
- Updating Homes England’s strategic objectives to give greater emphasis to delivering beautiful places
- Continued protection for the Green Belt and places of environmental and cultural value
- A nationally-determined, binding housing requirement
- Support for small and medium sized developers and self-builders to facilitate a more diverse and competitive housing industry
- A comprehensive resources and skills strategy for the planning sector to support the implementation of these reforms
- Strengthened enforcement powers and sanctions, potentially including higher fines
Alongside the White Paper, the Government has published a separate consultation document on changes to planning policy and regulations which includes four shorter-term measures to improve the current system by way of:
- Changes to the standard method for assessing local housing need;
- Requiring 25% of all affordable housing units to be First Homes which are sold at a discount to market price to first time buyers including key workers;
- Lifting the small sites threshold, below which developers do not need to provide affordable housing, to up to 40 or 50 units (rather than the 10 units currently specified) for an initial period of 18 months; and
- The extension of the current Permission in Principle to major residential development (schemes of ten or more homes).
Consultation on the Planning White Paper runs for 12 weeks from 6 August and not all of the proposals will necessarily come to fruition. As usual, much of the devil will be in the detail to the extent that the proposals do find their way into legislation.