The White Paper sets out the Government’s significant reform proposals for the English planning system. This includes changes to both the plan-making and decision-making processes. Below we provide comment in relation to two of the key issues in the form of the proposed plan-making system and the way infrastructure is funded. These are likely to be the focus of much debate and comment. There is also a strong emphasis on design standards and improving digital planning to encourage greater participation. Measures are also set out to encourage small and medium-sized builders (SMEs), and self-builds, and for all new homes to be carbon neutral by 2050.
It is important to note at this stage that the content of the White Paper is not law. Consultation on the White Paper runs until 29th October. The proposed changes would require primary legislation followed by secondary legislation before they are implemented.
Separately published for consultation until 1 October 2020, is a further document ‘Changes to the Current Planning System’. This sets out proposed short-term changes to improve the effectiveness of the current planning system and will not require primary legislation.
It is confirmed within the White Paper that the new planning system will be in place by the end of the Parliament. Given this, the proposals are not a quick fix to aid recovery from the current recession and instead represent potential major changes over the medium term.
“Plans for Growth”
A significant element of the proposed changes is the move to shorten the length and complexity of Local Plans through the use of standardisation and national development management policies. There will also be new pressures to undertake work upfront in order to support proposed development allocations.
Three new designations or “zoning” of land are proposed to be used:
Growth: Areas suitable for substantial development, and where outline approval for development would be automatically secured for forms and types of development specified in the Plan;
Renewal: Areas suitable for some development, such as gentle densification including via new permitted development rights;
Protected Areas: Development is restricted.
Proposed development in newly defined “growth” areas will essentially receive automatic outline planning permission compared to the current system where an allocation is the starting point for a more complex planning application process. For landowners in renewal areas, there will still be the potential for greater flexibility, but in “protected” areas there will be limited scope for new development. Whilst “growth” designations will undoubtedly reduce the time it takes to secure full planning permission, it is likely to result in the requirement to undertake detailed work upfront to demonstrate the soundness of the proposed designation in line with the newly proposed single sustainability test. It is envisaged that this will replace the existing tests. Furthermore, a new emphasis will be placed on community consultation at the plan-making stage. The preparation stage of the local plan will, therefore, assume greater importance and is likely to result in more risk being placed on developers.
Local Plans will need to be accompanied by locally produced design codes to seek to control the quality of development.
Local Planning Authorities (LPA) will no longer have a duty to co-operate when drawing up local plans, instead, the numbers will be set by the government. Each LPA will be bound to deliver their housing target devised using the standard method. Although it appears that there will be less tolerance for under-delivery, it is unclear at this stage what recourse the Government will have in this scenario.
The White Paper includes a requirement for new Local Plans to be prepared in 30 months. This is a quick turnaround and particularly given that sites designated as “growth” areas will deliver outline planning permission of substantial schemes. In order to achieve this, the Local Plan process will need to be adequately resourced by Local Authorities. If the preparation of Local Plans is not adequately resourced then this has the potential to act as a brake on development, which is clearly at odds with the key objective of the White Paper.
“A Consolidated Infrastructure Levy”
The White Paper proposes the revocation of the existing community infrastructure levy (CIL) and planning obligations system. They will be replaced by the by a new infrastructure levy, calculated as a percentage of development value (exceeding a threshold). The level of the new tax would be based on nationally set rates, however, it would be collected and spent locally.
This approach to funding infrastructure required by proposed development is likely to cause issues in areas where the viability of development is such that the levy cannot be charged. Furthermore, the assessment of viability cases is often a complex process, resulting in a potential delay to the development plan process. In cases where it is not possible to collect an infrastructure levy, how will the cost of required infrastructure be met and if it cannot be, will this result in complications in demonstrating that the new sustainability test can be met? This matter needs due consideration in order to avoid delays to the local plan process and ultimately hinder delivery.
The monies collected could be spent on the delivery of affordable housing. LPAs would still have the mechanism to require on-site provision and the developer would be able to offset the difference between the affordable housing unit value and its value on the open market against the total levy liability. However, again, if an offset of this nature results in required infrastructure not being fully funded, this may result in it being difficult to demonstrate that the new sustainability test has been met.
Another significant change is that the scope of the levy may “be extended to capture changes of use through permitted development rights. This is being proposed in order to “allow these developments to better contribute to infrastructure delivery and making development acceptable to the community”. Again, this appears to be at odds with the overall thrust of the White Paper and may act as a brake on certain types of development.
Find out more
The ADAS Planning Team would be happy to discuss the implications of the White Paper in more detail. If there are specific proposed changes which may affect you, we would be happy to discuss these and prepare consultation responses as required. Click HERE to find out more about our Planning services.