An overhaul of the country’s outdated planning system that will deliver the high-quality, sustainable homes communities need will be at the heart of the most significant reforms to housing policy in decades, the Housing Secretary announced when unveiling a new whitepaper.
Described as ‘landmark changes’, the whitepaper seeks to transform a system that has long been criticised for being too sluggish in providing housing for families, key workers and young people and too ineffectual in obligating developers to properly fund the infrastructure – such as schools, roads and GP surgeries – to support them.
Housing Secretary Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP commented on the launch: “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.
“As we face the economic effects of the pandemic, now is the time for decisive action and a clear plan for jobs and growth.
“Our reforms will create thousands of jobs, lessen the dominance of big builders in the system, providing a major boost for small building companies across the country.”
The reforms will mean:
- Local communities will be consulted from the very 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
- Much-needed homes will be built quicker by ensuring local housing plans are developed and agreed in 30 months – down from the current seven years
- Every area to have a local plan in place – currently only 50% 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
- An ambition that new ‘zero carbon ready’ homes delivered under our new system will not require any future retrofitting.
Matthew Fell, CBI Chief UK Policy Director, commented: “Changes to the planning system will help ramp up the availability of homes in places where people need them most.
“These reforms will allow house builders to get to work, supporting supply chains, and more flexible, local labour markets around the country.
“Delivering high-quality, safe and environmentally friendly new homes is critical for meeting our climate targets while accelerating regional growth and tackling inequality.
“Affordability of future housing supply must remain at the forefront of these efforts.
“With coronavirus continuing to cast a shadow of uncertainty over the economy, a more flexible planning system must give local authorities and businesses scope to deliver the homes people need in the short term while laying the groundwork for sustainable communities for decades to come.”
The Housing Secretary also confirmed 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.
Helen Evans, Chief Executive of Network Homes and chair of the G15 group of London’s largest housing associations, commented on the announcement: “The country needs many more affordable homes and the planning system makes an important contribution towards that.
“I strongly welcome the intention of government’s proposed reforms to increase transparency and certainty to help increase the delivery of affordable homes.”
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.
However, concerns have been raised about the environmental aspects of the plans.
John Alker, Director of Policy and Places at UK Green Building Council, commented: “Planning is part of a wider system that is failing to deliver both the quality and quantity of homes needed to tackle the environmental and social challenges we face.
“High-quality, sustainable design is key to securing support from communities, and this is more likely to be achieved when communities can contribute meaningfully to the design process.
“We therefore welcome the ambition to simplify the system and harness modern technology, as this will help both improve accessibility and provide much-needed certainty.
“However, the planning process must maintain the support and constructive involvement of local communities if it is to effectively deliver places that work for everyone.
“To help tackle both the climate and ecological crises, the plans must – crucially – form part of a coherent, long-term commitment by the Government to environmental protection; one that gives developers clarity around low carbon, nature-friendly investment.
“We welcome the aspiration that new homes will not need costly retrofitting, but if this is to be achieved we need to see a significant strengthening of energy efficiency standards in 2020 and 2025.
“We welcome the commitment to protecting nature in certain areas, as part of supporting nature’s recovery.
“However, we need reassurances that nature – and access to it – will be also protected and enhanced and in both the growth and renewal zones, not just in protected areas.
“We call on Government to ensure that local authorities can properly resource their planning functions, and that they have both the skills and capacity to see high quality, sustainable design delivered in practice.”