In its White Paper titled “Planning for the Future”, the Government sets out how it plans to modernise the planning system and speed up the overall process in order to meet targets for building homes in the UK. Planning barrister Oliver Goodwin sets out the key changes below.

The Government trumpets this as the biggest planning reform since the real birth of national planning in 1947, and indeed, if it introduces a full-blooded system of zoning controls, as mooted, then it will be. It identifies three main zones – growth, renewal and protection – indicating that there will be sub-zones, too. The paper has an ambition that Local Plans will become much faster to produce, yet will incorporate better consultation with “world class civic engagement”. It has the ambition that the documents will be one third of their current size. Experience of zoning plans for other countries is that they can be least as long and as complex as our current local plans, as they have to set out all the standards with which proposals must comply. It is considered unrealistic to expect this transformation and the new process to be quicker than the current framework.

There are four other themes or pillars of the proposals: a “digital-first” approach; a new focus on design and sustainability; improved infrastructure delivery; and greater land availability.

There is a discernible thread in the White Paper of more national control: a new body is to be set up to oversee Design Guidance and Codes; the digitisation and interactive nature of plans is to be standardised; and the Community Infrastructure Levy is to be simplified and set nationally, to include affordable housing for the first time. Local plans will be speeded by the imposition of new national development management policies. Most significantly, housing requirements will be set nationally and will be binding (harking back to the regional targets imposed by the Regional Planning Authorities, abolished by the Conservative Government).

Environmental groups will be concerned by the claims for improvements to protection of the environment; the paper proposes a “quicker and simpler framework for assessing environmental impacts”. There are legitimate fears that if it is quicker and simpler, it cannot be as rigorous and effective as the current well-established system for safeguarding nationally and internationally protected areas.

Boris Johnson in his foreword echoes Housing Minister Robert Jenrick’s blaming of the “outdated and ineffective planning system” for the shortage of housing. There is plenty of strong evidence that the pace of building has not been the fault of the planning system. Even if it was, the Conservatives have now been in power for a decade and have had ample time to address this through reform of the system. The proposals for the increased use of digitisation in plan making and determination are welcomed, but the proposals overall are not considered to be the answer to a quicker, more effective system for the delivery of more and better quality development, as claimed, at least not in the short to medium term.

If you have any questions in relation to the above, please do not hesitate to get in touch with Oliver Goodwin using the below details.

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This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. It should not be used as a substitute for legal advice relating to your particular circumstances. Please note that the law may have changed since the date of this article.