The Government’s long-awaited ‘Planning for the Future’ White Paper has been published. It proposes some fundamental changes to the planning system in England.
Andrew Barr, Head of Planning & Development, details the potential changes. The White Paper is out for consultation until 29th October 2020.
What changes are taking place?
- New Zoning System – where identifying an area for development would be a permission for development to occur, subject to meeting new design criteria, but with no further action required.
The zoning system would see all land divided into three separate zones:
1. Growth: land lying within this category would have outline planning approval and would also apply to large scale development including new settlements.
2. Renewal: land in this area would be categorised as suitable for development and would apply to smaller scale developments, rural areas (but edge of settlement) and infill sites.
3. Protected: this would relate to sites and areas such as Green Belt, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, conservation areas, local wildlife sites, etc which, due to their sensitivity, any development proposals would be subject to more stringent planning controls. It is envisaged that open countryside would also fall in this category, so the implication is that planning constraints would be no different from the current position, where there is a general presumption against residential development in the open countryside.
It has been suggested to:
- Combine ‘Growth’ and ‘Renewal’ areas into one zone and extend ‘Planning in Principle’ to all land within that zone.
- Limit Planning in Principle to the ‘Growth’ zone only, leaving all development proposals beyond that zone to Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) to determine.
- Review Community Infrastructure Levy and Planning Obligations – amalgamating these into a National Infrastructure Levy. The new Levy would more closely reflect the capital value of the proposed development.
- Development Management – policies to be set at national level and the National Planning Policy Framework to be the key reference for determination of planning applications.
- Local Plans – these will be subject to a single statutory ‘sustainable development’ test replacing the current ‘soundness’ test. Local Plans are to be more visual and map based. The preparation of Local Plans is to be quickened with sanctions applied to Planning Authorities for non-compliance.
- Neighbourhood Plans -the significant role played by Neighbourhood Plans gained through the Localism Act is to be maintained and enhanced.
- Housing Need Assessment – The method of assessing housing need is to be standardised to prevent land supply being a barrier to the delivery of new homes.
- Build Out Rates – To address slow build out rates, the National Planning Policy Framework will be revised to ensure that masterplans and design codes should seek to include a variety of layouts by different housebuilders. This is to encourage small and medium sized housebuilders and lessen the domination of the ‘big few’ housebuilders.
- Design – Will become paramount with design codes being prepared locally. Each planning authority will appoint a Chief Design Officer to support the delivery of locally popular design codes. There will be a fast track planning process for ‘beauty’, i.e. development of very high quality.
- Permitted Development (PD) – The National Infrastructure Levy would extend to capture changes of use which occur as a result of PD rights being exercised. Concern has been expressed about the quality of dwellings resulting from commercial to residential change of use.
- Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) – These can often slow down the delivery of new homes and the proposal is to see how EIAs can be handled more quickly.
- Listed Buildings – The planning framework surrounding listed buildings and Conservation Areas is to be reviewed.
- Energy Efficiency – There have been significant changes to building regulations as the Government steers towards its target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and further raising of energy efficiency standards is proposed.
- Funding of the Planning System – The proposal is that the principal beneficiaries of development (developers and landowners) will fund the planning system in the future. It is likely therefore that we will see further changes to planning application fees imposed by LPAs, particularly for larger scale developments. It is noted that LPAs will have greater freedom in spending monies received from the new National Infrastructure Levy.
As always caution should be exercised in interpreting announcements which claim to tear up the current planning system and allow development to occur without the need for planning applications. Our view is that whilst a zoning system (popular in many other countries) would have its merits in clarifying what development may be allowed in particular areas, these proposals are certainly not a developer’s charter.
The Government mantra to ‘build, build, build’ is definitely helpful in demonstrating a positive direction of travel, notably to try and achieve its 300,000 new homes per annum target. The extent of the fundamental system changes remains to be seen once the proposals emerge from the consultation process. We will be monitoring the proposals and will provide further updates in due course.
If you have any queries in the meantime or would like help with your planning projects, please contact a member of staff from our Planning & Development department.
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