On 6 August 2020, the Government published the long awaited Planning for the Future White Paper, which commenced a 12-week consultation period (expiring on 29 October 2020) on a number of proposals for significant reform of the planning system in England based on three pillars: planning for development, beautiful and sustainable places and infrastructure and connected places. My colleague Hannah Mannion and I set out a summary of the key objectives below:

  • streamlining the planning system with more democracy taking place at the plan-making stage and local plans focusing on designating three categories of land zoning (growth areas, renewal areas and protected areas). Please look out for part 2 of our blog on the White Paper later this week which will consider zoning in more detail;

  •  digitising planning by moving from "a process based on documents to a process driven by data”, including streamlining the preparation of local plans to create visual and map-based documents focusing on site and area specific development rather than general development policies which form part of the NPPF. There will also be set timeframes for local authorities to prepare local plans which will call into question resourcing capabilities;

  • bringing a new focus to design and sustainability including replacing the existing test of soundness for local plans with a test for achieving sustainable development. The recently introduced duty to cooperate will also be abolished;

  • improving infrastructure delivery and reforming developer contributions by replacing section 106 agreements and Community Infrastructure Levy with a new Infrastructure Levy, being a fixed proportion of the value of the development, above a set threshold. This would be set at a national rate which would need to be benchmarked appropriately to ensure it encourages development rather than hinders it. The aim would also be for the Infrastructure Levy to be spent on affordable housing, to avoid the need for a hybrid approach;

  • ensuring more land is available for housing and the type of development that communities need and supporting the renewal of town and city centres. This has tended to be the focus of most of the planning reform over recent years however the proposals in the White Paper do go a lot further than other recent consultations have.

Housing Secretary, Robert Jenrick has indicated the proposed reforms are aimed at addressing the economic effects of COVID and will create new jobs and boost small building companies across the country. Alongside the consultation, the Government also announced on 6 August 2020 that they are:

  • confirming the new First Homes home ownership scheme will provide homes with a 30% discount to first-time buyers, key workers and local residents and consulting on how they can be delivered through the planning system;

  • consulting on how local housing need is assessed and changes to the standard method, ensuring locally-led plans for development deliver the 300,000 new homes needed annually with a focus on particular areas of shortfall;
  • consulting on proposals to extend the current exemption of small sites from making s106 contributions up to 40 or 50, to assist smaller developers recover from the economic impact of COVID;
  • consulting on extending the Permission in Principle consenting route to major development to give more developers access to a fast track route to secure the principle of development for housing;

  • publishing a call for evidence to seek views on proposals to help local authorities and communities better understand who controls land in their area and to assist SME and new entrants to the housing market identify land suitable for development.

The Government is encouraging feedback from individuals and organisations as part of its consultation on the proposed measures. It will be interesting to monitor how the detail of these proposals is finessed during the consultation period to reflect questions and concerns raised by developers, local authorities and stakeholders about how the proposals will work in practice. We anticipate that parallels will be drawn with other jurisdictions which operate zoning systems and reflections made on their benefits and pitfalls. Detailed thought will need to be given to transitional provisions for all the changes as well as the resourcing of local authorities to deal with the significant and wide reaching changes at a time when finances are tight, and alongside a myriad of other planning reforms being introduced.

We would encourage all those with an interest to respond to the consultation and would be happy to discuss any particular aspects in more detail with you.