17 March 2016
Just when you thought that the Government had finished with reforming the planning system, yesterday’s Budget proposed speeding up and simplifying planning yet further. WYG’s Head of Planning, Steve Fidgett, looks at some of the proposals and their implications.
Quicker Secretary of State planning decisions
The government will set statutory three month deadlines for Secretary of State decisions on called-in applications and recovered appeals to prevent time delays on decisions on infrastructure, housing and regeneration projects.
Steve says: “While we welcome the commitment to a tighter timescale for these decisions, the key here must be consistent, high quality decisions to achieve the right solutions for the issues involved. The Appeals system needs to be well resourced with experienced professionals to achieve these goals.”
Speeding up the process for assessing housing need, and Local Plan-Making
The government intends to accelerate the preparation and adoption of Local Plans. The government welcomes the report by the Local Plans Expert Group and will consult on the recommendations.
Following the ongoing consultation on the delivery of Local Plans by 2017, the government will set out later this year details of measures to encourage the production of Local Plans. As recommended by the Local Plans Expert Group report, the government will also look at the scope to reduce the weight of outdated plans in decision-making. The government will consult on the other recommendations made by the Group until 27 April 2016.
Steve agrees with the focus on achieving complete, up-to-date plan coverage.
“There should be consequences for local authorities where plans are either not in place or are patently out of date, the latter point has perhaps been overlooked to date,” he comments. “Plenty of plans are substantially out-of-date, prepared on old evidence from before 2012 and the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), so they do not adequately meet the needs of the community within their areas or that of their neighbours. These plans undermine new housing and employment space provision in large parts of the country. If decisions are to really be plan-led, up-to-date coverage is vital, in particular for unlocking housing supply.”
Steve explains that, even on their own admission, many authorities simply don’t have a five-year housing land supply and appear slow in addressing this, with many being unlikely to meet the deadlines for new Local Plans based on current progress. This is amply demonstrated by WYG’s own housing land supply research.
Last month; our Midlands research showed that only 59 per cent of East Midlands authorities could claim five or more years’ housing supply. The real position, Steve says, is actually far worse, with many basing their figures on out-of-date, pre-NPPF, data.
Garden villages and towns
The government supports the construction of a new wave of garden towns and cities across the country, with the potential to deliver over 100,000 homes. The Budget announces that the government will legislate to make it easier for local authorities to work together to create new garden towns, as well as consult on a second wave of Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) reforms with the objective of making the CPO process clearer, fairer and quicker. For areas that want to establish smaller settlements, the government will provide technical and financial support to areas that want to establish garden villages, urban extensions and market towns of between 1,500 to 10,000 homes. The government will shortly announce what planning and financial flexibilities will be offered to local authorities that submit proposals for settlements that deliver a significant number of additional houses.
To support areas that want to establish garden villages, the government will provide capacity support for local authorities; introduce new legislation that will speed up and simplify the process for delivering new settlements; and announce planning incentives to support areas seeking to bring forward new settlements, in return for commitments to significant housing delivery.
Steve welcomes the recognition of the principles of combining town and country to create garden villages in smaller communities. But he stresses that these must be well located to be sustainable. Opening the way for those that adjoin existing urban areas or are based around key public transport hubs is key to delivering sustainable patterns of growth. These deliver more successful, sustainable communities that benefit current and future generations and will be essential in helping to deliver improved infrastructure and services to existing towns and new communities.
Steve notes: “This proposal will still require difficult choices, especially in the metropolitan areas and around London, where it would require a positive review of Green Belt at the local level if the need for housing and services is to be properly met without extra strain on longer distance commuting and demands on our infrastructure. We need to reduce the need for travel by locating housing close to the key centres of economic activity that drive the economy, such as London and our other great cities and city regions.
“There is a clear rationale for higher densities and for more development in sustainable locations that are well related to towns and transport hubs. But if we are to deliver a step change in the quantum of housing supply, we need as many tools as possible and a review of Green Belt is one of these that many believe is essential,” Steve adds.
Moving to a more zonal planning system
The Budget announced the government’s intention to move to a more zonal and ‘red line’ planning approach, where local authorities use their local plans to signal their development strategy from the outset and make maximum use of permission in principle, to give early certainty and reduce the number of stages developers must go through to get planning permission.
Steve questions whether zoning, which in the past has tended towards areas of single land uses, is appropriate. He comments: “While we would welcome the provision of additional certainty through the use of local plans and clear allocations, the most beneficial place-making integrates different and complementary uses within areas of higher density, such as housing, community uses and employment. It makes the most of brownfield land in sustainable locations.”
In addition, the permission in principle – a measure in the Housing and Planning Bill - needs to be understood in more detail. Perhaps a move towards the certainty that an outline application would provide would be helpful but, for development to commence, the planning process still needs to be efficient and effective in delivering the permissions society needs.
Streamlining the use of planning conditions
To minimise delays caused by the use of planning conditions, the government intends to: legislate to ensure that pre-commencement planning conditions can only be used with the agreement of the developer; and review the process of deemed discharge for conditions, to ensure it is effective and its use maximised
Steve comments: “The commitment to thinking again about the type and nature of planning conditions and minimising those that are ‘pre commencement’ is positive. But care needs to be taken that this does not result in slower decisions in the first place. Fewer and more tailored conditions, suited to appropriate phases of development are key. These need to be dealt with expediently to ensure starts on site are not delayed.”
While the Government is intent on simplifying and speeding up the plan process, the evidence base for plan-making must still be robust. It needs to adequately assess the demand for housing and meet this with appropriate, deliverable sites and supporting infrastructure. Further improvements to the planning system may be a case of more haste, less speed.