Government launches consultation to reform UK’s “outdated” planning system

Newland Homes' Brooklands development in Evesham resized

The government has launched a consultation to overhaul of the country’s outdated planning system.

The government says the changes will be a “major boost” to SME builders currently cut off by the planning process, which has long been criticised for being too sluggish.

Green spaces and Green Belt will continue to be protected for future generations, with the reforms allowing for more building on brownfield land, said the government.

Local community agreement will be at the centre of the proposals being put forward in the white paper, Planning for the future, published today.

But the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) questions how much local involvement there would be under the new system.

Tom Fyans, CPRE’s Director of Campaigns and Policy, said: “First and foremost, our planning process must respond to the needs of communities, both in terms of providing much-needed affordable homes and other vital infrastructure, and green spaces for our health and wellbeing.

“The planning process as it stands may not be perfect but instead of deregulating planning, the government must invest in planning. Quality development needs a quality planning system with community participation at its heart.”

Luke Freeman, Joint Chief Executive at Forest of Dean-based Freeman Homes, added: “Freeman Homes welcomes any government intervention to speed up the planning process.  The current system creates significant disruption and inefficiency when trying to accelerate and increase our production volumes.  These delays are exacerbated for SME housebuilders like us which do not have the luxury of a large land bank unlike the PLC volume housebuilders which operate on a much larger scale and have the resources to invest in a long term landbank. If the planning process could be accelerated then we would be able to grow our business to compete with increasing dominance of the larger companies which would be healthy for the supply and cost of new build housing.”

The government says the current system has shown itself to be unfavourable to small businesses, with the proportion of new homebuilding they lead on dropping drastically from 40 per cent 30 years ago to just 12 per cent today.

Recent studies show smaller firms feel the complexities of the planning process and its associated risks, delays and costs are the key challenges they face in homebuilding.

Housing Secretary Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP said: “Our complex planning system has been a barrier to building the homes people need; it takes seven years to agree local housing plans and five years just to get a spade in the ground.

“These once-in-a-generation reforms will lay the foundations for a brighter future, providing more homes for young people and creating better quality neighbourhoods and homes across the country.

“We will cut red tape, but not standards, placing a higher regard on quality, design and the environment than ever before. Planning decisions will be simple and transparent, with local democracy at the heart of the process.”

The government’s reforms include:

  • Local communities consulted from the  beginning of the planning process. By harnessing the latest technology through online maps and data, the whole system will be made more accessible
  • Valued green spaces will be protected for future generations by allowing for more building on brownfield land and all new streets to be tree lined
  • Homes will be built quicker by ensuring local housing plans are developed and agreed in 30 months – down from the current 7 years
  • Every area to have a local plan in place – currently only 50 per cent of local areas has a plan to build more homes
  • The planning process to be overhauled and replaced with a clearer, rules based system. Currently around a third of planning cases that go to appeal are overturned at appeal
  • A new, simpler, national levy to replace the current system of developer contributions which often causes delay
  • The creation of a fast-track system for beautiful buildings and establishing local design guidance for developers to build and preserve beautiful communities
  • All new homes to be ‘zero carbon ready’, with no new homes delivered under the new system needed to be retrofitted as we achieve our commitment to net zero carbon emissions by 2050

Matthew Fell, CBI Chief UK Policy Director, said: “Changes to the planning system will help ramp up the availability of homes in places where people need them most. These reforms will allow housebuilders to get to work, supporting supply chains, and more flexible, local labour markets around the country.

The Housing Secretary also confirmed today that the First Homes scheme will provide newly-built homes at a 30% discount for local people, key workers and first-time buyers. The discount will be locked into the home in perpetuity, ensuring future buyers can continue to benefit from it.

A new and simpler system of developer contributions will also ensure private firms play their part in funding the new infrastructure and affordable homes that should accompany new building.

Section 106 agreements and the Community Infrastructure Levy will be replaced with a new Infrastructure Levy that will be a fixed proportion of the value of the development, above a set threshold, helping to deliver more affordable housing.

Revenues would be spent locally on projects such as new roads, upgraded playgrounds and discounted homes for local, first-time buyers.

Towns and high streets will also benefit from renewed development. The reforms will speed up and simplify the process, breathing new life into vacant commercial properties and industrial spaces and, where desirable, transforming them into new homes.

At their heart, the proposals will ensure councils prioritise good design, establish strong, local guidance and create a fast-track for approving beautiful buildings.

Under the plans, land will be designated into one of three categories – for growth, for renewal or for protection. Communities will set the agenda for their own areas, with the categories for all land across England decided through local consensus.

Decisions on the Green Belt will stay with local authorities as they prepare their plans, so that we can continue to protect and enhance these important areas for generations to come.

Following the publication of Planning for the future, the government will now consult with planners, lawyers and local government experts on the proposals, as well as interest groups and residents.