The long-promised Planning White Paper, heavily trailed in the media last weekend, has been released for consultation by the Government. The document promises “radical reform unlike anything we have seen since the Second World War” and “a significantly simpler, faster and more predictable system”. This is promoted in 24 proposals, upon which views are sought up to 29 October. The proposals are wide-ranging, and have the potential to affect almost all of the major aspects of the planning system – some of the more eye-catching proposals are summarised below:

  • Simplifying the Local Plan system to identify three types of land – “Growth” areas that are “suitable for substantial development”, “Renewal” areas “suitable for development”, and areas that are “Protected”.
  • Growth areas “would automatically be granted outline planning permission for the principle of development, while automatic approvals would also be available for pre-established development types in other areas suitable for building”.
  • Development management policies established at national level, with a suggestion that local development management policies be restricted to “clear and necessary” site or area-specific requirements.
  • Replacing the existing tests of soundness (including removal of the Duty to Co-operate with neighbouring authorities) with a single statutory “sustainable development” test.
  • Establishing a fixed 30-month period to develop Local Plans, streamlining the “disproportionate burden of evidence” that supports them.
  • Changes to how local housing need is assessed, seeking to address housing affordability and having regard to local constraints. A new standard method would be a means of distributing the national target of 300,000 new homes annually, and one million homes by the end of the Parliamentary term.
  • Housing Delivery Test and Presumption in Favour of Sustainable Development to be retained.
  • Faster and more certain decision-making, with “firm” deadlines. Legislation will be brought in requiring local authorities and the Planning Inspectorate to meet statutory timescales, with the possibility of sanctions if they fail to do so.
  • Neighbourhood Plans to be retained, with greater emphasis on incorporating digital tools and data in their preparation.
  • Local design guidance and codes to become binding on development. In addition, a “fast track for beauty”, reflecting the propositions of the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission is mooted.
  • The current system of planning obligations is to be abolished and the Community Infrastructure Levy reformed to an “Infrastructure Levy”, with a mandatory nationally-set rate “to be charged as a fixed proportion of the development value above a threshold”. The Infrastructure Levy regime might be extended to include changes of use implemented through permitted development.
  • A radical overhaul of how people engage in the planning process, establishing a “digital-first approach” to engagement with local communities.
  • An overarching commitment to net-zero greenhouse gas emission by 2050.

In parallel, the Government has also released a more technical consultation paper for comment until 1 October. This seeks views on a range of matters, including:

  • The Government’s proposals to change how local housing need is assessed (as flagged in the White Paper).
  • How the “First Homes” home ownership scheme will be delivered through the planning process.
  • Extending “Permission in Principle” to major development.
  • Measures to assist small and medium size housebuilders, and new entrants to the housing market.

The Government is clearly heralding these changes as a root and branch reform of the planning system, and taken at face value it is fair to say that they would be. However, given that the Government is at consultation stage, it must be assumed that implementation of the proposals will not start in the coming months, some proposals may be subject to change, and some may not be implemented at all. Further, with planning reform the devil is always in the detail, and experience indicates it can take many years before the impact of any changes can be properly assessed.

With that in mind, we will be studying the detail of the consultation closely in the coming days, and will provide a more detailed analysis, going beyond the headlines, shortly. However, if you have any questions about the Government’s consultation, or would like Rapleys to help get your organisation’s voice heard, please contact one of our national team.