Three-minute version: ‘The future of the planning system in England’
The findings of the House of Commons Housing, Communities and Local Government (HCLG) Committee’s look at the proposed reforms to the planning system has been published today. Natasha Abbott, Planner, Bidwells, has read the report – ‘The future of the planning system in England’ - so you don’t have to.
The Committee's report put forward some headline recommendations and they can be grouped under six headings.
The Committee made six key points in relation to Local Plans:
- The proposed three-zone system is not considered to be detailed enough with the Committee unpersuaded that this was quicker, cheaper and more democratic. There is the potential for additional categories to be created.
- Local authorities should set out detailed plans for growth and renewal areas including key details such as minimum parking standards and building heights. These plans could be completed by way of planning briefs for particular sites.
- Enhancements in terms of the place of design and beauty should consider a broader definition of design. Innovation in design should not be unduly stifled with subjective natural beauty being recognised.
- Individuals must still be allowed to comment on individual planning applications and not just local plans.
- An extension should be considered to the 30-month timeframe proposed for the local plan submission to ensure these are of a high quality.
- The roll-out of the new local plans should additionally be staggered across the country.
Duty to Cooperate
The Select Committee has stated that further details should be provided concerning the removal of the Duty to Cooperate element. This drew specific criticism from the general planning community when the white paper was initially published, particularly for areas that have significant constraints. The inclusion of this element is a welcome recommendation.
The report welcomes the plans to expand the use of digital technology, with it being noted that virtual planning meetings should be retained in addition to the retention of traditional notification methods.
In-person meetings returned on Friday 7 May 2021 following two High Court judgments that outlined that they would not be lawful beyond this date as they are not ‘open to the public’ and planning committee meetings require a physical presence. Virtual committees were extremely popular, making attendance easier for all concerned and boosting participation.
Housing Numbers and Delivery
Three key points were made here:
- Additional information has been requested in terms of the housing formula announced by the Government in December 2020. The previous ‘Mutant Algorithm’ had raised criticism from members of the Government's own party, including Theresa May, due to the perceived increase in housing targets in Conservative strongholds across the country, and particularly the Home Counties. This resulted in a strong outcry from the Conservatives to cause a rethink in approach. It would be interesting to see whether this outcry will result in any meaningful change – only time will tell.
- Time limits should be set on the commencement of developments with potential financial levies, should this not be achieved.
- The evidence base for the Government’s 300,000 dwellings a year target should be published.
Affordable Housing and Section 106
- The proportion of first homes requested in the Section 106 Agreements should be at the discretion of the individual local planning authorities.
- There is a case for reformation of the CIL, although not for the Section 106 Agreements. There is also potential for a new levy but this needs further information.
- The reports recommends that an increased budget should be sought from the Treasury – an additional £500m over four years. This funding should be used for additional staffing resources including personnel with specialist skills to fill the skill gaps that exist currently. In light of this, the Government must undertake and publish a resource and skill strategy before primary legislation.
The Green Belt
A review should be undertaken to examine the purpose of the Green Belt which includes:
- Whether all land designated as Green Belt continues to serve that purpose
- How the public understand it
- What should be the criteria for inclusion
- What additional protections might be appropriate
As the extent of the Green Belt has been largely unreviewed, the inclusion of discussions surrounding a review are welcome, especially since this area was perceived to be neglected as part of the initial White Paper. This report opens the door for existing boundaries to be revised, with the creation of the new local plans also providing the opportunity for these assessments. The Government should identify the areas where this analysis of boundaries is particularly urgent.
The inclusion for the possibility of a review of the Green Belt boundaries has the potential to create windows of opportunity for developers and landowners to put forward sites for development. It will interesting to see how the Government responds on this area, and whether they will propose a wider Green Belt review as part of the White Paper.