‘Government’s Planning for the Future’ Receives Mixed Reception
By Owen Angel
Under the government’s proposed White Paper, ‘Planning for the Future’, land across England will be divided into three categories; ‘protected’, ‘renewal’ and ‘growth’. Consequently new homes, schools, shops and offices will automatically be permitted in ‘growth’ areas, while in urban and brownfield sites – termed as ‘renewal zones’ – plans would be given ‘permission in principle’.
The immediate reception has been mixed, to say the least, and fears over the effects of the new measures are apparent with some comments suggesting that it could pave the way for a new generation of poorly built housing.
However, it is important to point out that the reforms, put forward in the ‘Planning for the Future’ document, are a long-term project and several years away from implementation. The government published a separate consultation document, alongside the White Paper, setting out more immediate measures to change the current planning system; these look set to have a major impact on affordable housing in the shorter term.
As a starting point, the most significant change, from my perspective, is the departure from the existing planning system which will no longer be decided by local council authorities. Under the proposal, the government will ultimately decide on how many homes are built, in each area, based on the 300,000 homes-a-year-target.
Perhaps one of the most controversial aspects of the new plans is that the building figures will be based on levels of ‘unaffordability’. Therefore it is likely that the more expensive areas – e.g. the South East of England – will be set higher targets.
Much of the discussion, surrounding the White Paper, has thus far centred on its new approach to land categorisation, which represents a perceived step towards a zonal planning system.
It is clear that areas of ‘protected land’ (e.g. land of outstanding beauty) will not be developed, while in ‘growth areas’ developers would receive automatic planning permission. Once again, some commentators have voiced concern regarding the quality of homes which may be delivered through this route.
The decision regarding which sites should be protected will possibly be less challenging for local authorities, whereas the determination on density and design standards – for ‘renewal areas’ – will perhaps be the more contentious issue.
The current local planning system will be dramatically revised under the proposed new approach, in as much as local councils presently decide how much housing will be built in their areas and location.
It would appear that Ministers wish to streamline these aspects of local planning and intend to legislate to this effect so that plans will be required to be developed within two-and-a-half years, as opposed to the current seven year average.
Local councils will need to develop criteria or the ‘design codes’ covering the housing priorities in respect of aesthetics, transport links, energy efficiency credentials and everything in between!
This will be the primary lever for ensuring that homes, built in ‘growth’ and ‘renewal areas’ are of a good quality and standard. It is intended to provide developers guidance in respect of what is acceptable and improve development standards.
DEVELOPER CONTRIBUTIONS TO AFFORDABLE HOUSING AND INFRASTRUCTURE
The government plans to scrap the Section 106 planning agreement and the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL), replacing them with a new flat-rate Infrastructure Levy. This will be tied to final development values and moves closer towards a land value capture approach in respect of developer contributions.
Section 106 is considered to have been successful in securing the necessary finance, and numbers of affordable homes from developers. However, the government have a strong expectation that the new system will deliver “at least as much – if not more” onsite affordable housing.
Perhaps most importantly, the government is proposing to set the Infrastructure Levy – nationally – “at either a single rate or at area-specific rates”.
Other measures outlined, in the White Paper, include digitalising the planning system which could – potentially – revolutionise the public involvement in planning, offering more access during the planning phases. The White Paper suggests that local plans should be “based on the latest digital technology”, with greater use of online information.
In writing this blog piece, it has become apparent to me that there are numerous areas which will raise both question marks – and eyebrows – and, from my perspective, I believe that anyone involved in these processes should make themselves aware of how they are likely to impact on them.
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