Major reforms for ‘outdated’ planning system

On behalf of Attwaters Jameson Hill posted in Planning Law on Friday, August 7th, 2020

Sweeping reforms proposed by the housing secretary, Robert Jenrick, are set to revolutionise the planning landscape in a ‘once in a generation’ shakeup. He says the proposed changes will speed up the construction of much-needed new homes. Critics say they will simply create a ‘generation of slums’.

Who is right? This article takes a closer look at the reforms and the arguments from each side. 

Automatic planning permission

The main (and perhaps most disputed) change will be the automatic granting of planning permission for new homes constructed within designated ‘growth’ zones. The reforms propose the division of land into three zones: the aforementioned ‘growth’ zones, ‘renewal’ zones (in which development proposals will be given ‘permission in principle’ subject to basic checks) and protection zones (i.e. green belt land).  

Mr Jenrick says his proposals will modernise the currently ‘outdated’ planning system, which sees many proposed developments become embroiled in bitter planning battles that can result in years-long delays. The reforms, he argues, will enable developers to push on with the construction of much-needed new homes without interruption.

New national levy for developers

Under the proposals, Section 106 agreements and the Community Infrastructure Levy would be consolidated into a new ‘Infrastructure Levy’. Section 106 agreements are planning obligations that require developers to build a set percentage of affordable homes and incorporate the necessary infrastructure into new developments to mitigate their impact on local communities. They form the biggest contribution to the delivery of affordable housing in the UK.

In contrast, the Infrastructure Levy will apply on a fixed percentage of a new development’s completed value, with income from the Levy earmarked for infrastructure and community projects. A minimum threshold will mean that smaller sites will pay a reduced rate, or no Levy at all. There is some concern that a fixed percentage levy will fail to account for the specific community and infrastructure needs of different developments.  

The pros…

As mentioned above, Mr Jenrick argues that the proposals will overhaul what has become a slow and cumbersome system, in which planning battles rumble on for years before spades even enter the ground. Automatic planning permission, along with other proposals such as the reduction of the time limit for the development and agreement of Local Plans to 30 months (against the current seven years), will certainly achieve that goal.

Meanwhile, the new proposals also tie in with the government’s 2050 zero-carbon sustainability target, including carbon-neutrality for all new homes by 2050 and a greater focus on beautiful places that create a ‘net gain’, rather than just a ‘net no harm’.

A ‘first homes scheme’ also featured within the proposals, which would offer a 30% discount on newly-built homes for first-time buyers, local residents and key workers.

…and the cons

The proposals have been met with consternation by the political opposition, as well as bodies and organisations within the housebuilding sector.

Labour shadow housing minister, Mike Amesbury, commented: “This is a developer’s charter that will see communities sidelined in decisions and denied vital funding for building schools, clinics and community infrastructure.”

Meanwhile, the President of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), lambasted the “shameful proposals” that could “lead to the next generation of slum housing”. RIBA fears that the proposed lack of oversight of the planning process, together with the extension of permitted development rights allowing commercial premises to be converted for residential use, could see the proliferation of sub-standard housing for maximum profit.

Meanwhile, the Chairman of the Local Government Association, James Jamieson, dismissed the government’s suggestion that the planning system was holding back housebuilding as “a myth”. He continued that nine in 10 planning applications are approved by local councils – but that more than a million homes with planning permission have yet to be built.

More questions than answers

How will the Infrastructure Levy ensure the delivery of quality affordable housing? How will the government ensure high housing quality? And how – if at all – will residents get their say on building projects affecting them and their community? These are just some of the questions that have been triggered by the proposals. At Attwaters Jameson Hill, we eagerly await the conclusion to this contested consultation, which is due to close on 29 October 2020.

Have more questions?

Our expert Planning lawyers have years of experience in dealing with all kinds of Town and Country Planning matters. To get in touch, please contact our Partner Salvatore Amico, on 0203 871 0039 or email him at salvatore.amico@attwaters.co.uk.

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