SEVEN THINGS WE'VE LEARNED FROM TODAY'S PLANNING WHITE PAPER SO FAR 

Bidwells Associate planner Matt Wilson gives the Planning for the Future White Paper launched by government this morning (Aug 6) a first once over. 

Many of us have spent the morning digesting the Planning for the Future White Paper - the Government’s long-awaited Planning reforms that we have had glimpses and soundbites from over the last few days and weeks. 

Heralded as an overhaul of the country’s “outdated planning system” and “once in a generation reforms” they speak confidently of delivering high-quality, sustainable homes with the needs of the communities needs at its heart. 

It’s impossible not to use the devil in the detail idiom today. So we’ve not event tried here in Bidwells’ Planning team. Here are seven things we’ve picked up on first reading.

1. The role of land use plans will be simplified. 

It is not zoning but Local Plans will be required to identify all areas of land into one of three categories:

  • Growth areas – where outline planning permission for the allocated sites is a given

  • Renewal areas – which benefit from a strong presumption in favour of development; and

  • Protected areas – including the Green Belt which appears to operate in a similar way to the current system.

2. Neighbourhood plans remain but the scope to be reduced.  

Removing the test of ‘soundness’ and ‘the duty to co-operate’, to be replaced with a single standard of ‘sustainable development’ are stand out changes as is reducing the burden of Plan evidence and streamlining the EIA process.  These are areas which often take up lots of time at Examination, become ground for challenge and Local Plan failure, but ultimately add little to the positive impact on the quality of a Local Plan.

3. Local authorities and the Planning Inspectorate will be required to meet a statutory timetable for key stages of the process - with sanctions for those who fail to do so. 

Much of the current Local Plan process has been about debating what the housing requirement is, which slows down the process, adds another point that can be challenged and does little to speed up the delivery of homes. 

A standard method for setting housing requirements is to be established to reduce the time it takes to establish the amount of land to release in each area.  The standard requirement would differ from the current system of local housing need in that it would be binding and require greater land release.  Are we moving away from Localism?

4. They will also be required through legislation to meet a statutory timetable for key stages of the process. Again, sanctions for those who don’t. 

A proposed five stages plan make process with ‘meaningful’ public engagement at two stages.  The challenge of planning for significant growth and balancing views of the community remains.  If there is to be a focus on local consultation, the system needs to attract the voices of all and to balance local and national priorities as it is hard to ignore that vocal contributions to the planning system and those of protectionism. 

5. There’s a greater emphasis on design codes, which would be set locally with the intention of speeding up decisions. 

They will need to contain detail and will take a long time to prepare – and there remains uncertainly who prepares them, and how, can they be appealed or challenged.

6. The time limits of eight or 13 weeks for determining an application from validation to decision is to be a firm deadline.  

You would expect there will be a need to increase the role of delegated powers for professional planning officers, revisit the role of planning committees and incentives authorities to determine within statutory deadlines.

7. We still have a plan-led system.  

There is some familiarity in the rhetoric from the last rounds of reforms to the planning system however this time there are tangible ideas that could make a difference.  The proposals for Local Plan changes could very well be successful. It is difficult to see currently how the proposals will speed up Development management and Design Codes will still take time to prepare property.

Planners and planning remain important, what is certain is that funding of council planning departments will be needed – something that seems challenging at the current time. 

The deadline for all of the consultation documents is 29 October 2020. There will be plenty more devilish detail found between now and then.   

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