A fast-track for beautiful developments?


Today the Government published its long-awaited white paper on planning reform, which seeks views on 24 proposals.

In this legal insight we look at the key areas that have been targeted for reform.

Reform of local plans and automatic planning permissions for schemes in line with local plans

Local plans are perceived as being too lengthy and complex, and also taking too long to produce. It is proposed that they be simplified to identify three areas:

  • Growth areas, which are suitable for substantial development;
  • Renewal areas, which are suitable for development but where smaller scale development is appropriate; and
  • Protected areas, where more stringent controls are appropriate (such as the Green Belt, or Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty).

The white paper suggests that planning permission would automatically be granted to schemes in Growth areas. Therefore, no planning application would be required. Detailed planning permission could be obtained either by:

  • a reserved matters process to agree the outstanding issues;
  • a Local Development Order, prepared by the local planning authority for the development, which could be prepared in parallel with the local plan and be linked to a master plan and design codes; or
  • in the case of exceptionally large sites, it may be appropriate to use the process of Development Consent Orders under the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects regime.

A slightly more stringent process is proposed for developments in Renewal areas, with consent being granted in one of three ways:

  • For pre-specified forms of development, through a new route that would give automatic consent if the scheme meets design and other prior approval requirements.
  • For other types of development, a faster planning application process is suggested where the application would be determined in the context of the local plan description and with reference to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). Further details of what this faster planning application process would entail are not provided.
  • Consent by way of a Local or Neighbourhood Development Order is also proposed.

Applications for planning consent for development in Protected areas would be dealt with in the same way as under the current system.

Reform of the Community Infrastructure Levy and the abolition of Section 106 Agreements

Since The Community Infrastructure Levy Regulations 2010 came into force, they have been subject to repeated amendment. The Government is now proposing to replace the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) with what it is calling a consolidated infrastructure levy. It is proposed that this would be a fixed proportion of the development value above a threshold, with a mandatory nationally-set rate or rates, and would be charged on the final value of a development. The detail of how it is proposed that this be calculated is not set out.

The consolidated infrastructure levy would replace both CIL and planning agreements, and the Government intends that local planning authorities would have more freedom on how to spend the levy. This may lead to concerns about provision for affordable housing, which is currently dealt with via Section 106 agreements. The white paper asks for views on whether local planning authorities should be required to ring-fence a proportion for affordable housing.

It is also intended that the new levy would capture changes of use facilitated by permitted development rights, even where there was no increase in floor space.

A standard method for establishing housing requirement figures

There have been concerns about housing delivery for many years. How to set housing requirement figures can delay the local plan process, so it is suggested that a standard method be introduced. This would, in effect, distribute the national housebuilding target of 300,000 new homes annually between local planning authorities.

The Government has published a separate consultation on proposed changes to the standard method of assessing housing need.

A fast-track for beauty

The white paper states that there should be ‘a renewed focus on the beauty of new development’, with Pillar 2 of the white paper focusing on Planning for beautiful and sustainable places.

The white paper sets out three ways in which the Government intends to introduce a fast-track for beauty:

  • By updating the NPPF to set out that schemes that comply with local design guides and codes will be given an advantage in getting swift approval;
  • By introducing legislation to require a masterplan and site-specific code to be prepared by local planning authorities alongside or subsequent to preparing local plans; and
  • By legislating to widen and change the nature of permitted development so that proven popular designs can be pre-approved.

The white paper also sets out that each local planning authority should have a chief officer for design and place-making. How this is to be resourced by already cash-poor local planning authorities is not addressed. However, the Government sets out that it will be releasing proposals later this year for improving the resourcing of planning departments.

The consultation is already generating a lot of comment (both positive and negative), so should provide discussion on how to proceed with a number of planning issues. The consultation will be open for the next six weeks.

Contributor: Alexandra Holsgrove Jones

This publication is intended for general guidance and represents our understanding of the relevant law and practice as at August 2020. Specific advice should be sought for specific cases. For more information see our terms & conditions.


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