The New Radicals
05 Aug 20
Planning remains a longstanding bug-bear of the Government, but prior reforms have tended to nibble around the edges. This time however, the pressure is on the Government to affect a V-shaped recovery and planning is one of few levers it has at its disposal.
It is always badged as “radical”. Over the course of the ten housing and planning ministers that have assumed the post since 2010, each has identified the planning system as a major problem and radical planning reform as the principal solution. It was therefore of little surprise that Robert Jenrick should tell us in the Sunday Telegraph that he is “bringing forward radical and necessary planning reforms to our planning system to get Britain building and drive our economic recovery”. Planning remains a longstanding bug-bear of the Government, but prior reforms have tended to nibble around the edges and ignore the elephants in the room (Green Belt, anybody?). This time however, the pressure is on the Government to affect a V-shaped recovery and planning is one of few levers it has at its disposal.
So how radical will the reforms be and how quickly can they take place? Well, last week the Government published a host of Permitted Development Right changes which essentially remove “impact on character of the area” as a determining issue for increases in storey heights to qualifying buildings. The Government has simultaneously recalibrated the Use Classes Order to align retail, cafes, offices and leisure within a single Use Class to take changes between these uses outside of the control of the planning system. These changes are immediate and they should stimulate some reasonable development opportunities (with possible unintended consequences), but it is this week’s policy paper that has the propensity to radically reform the system. It will likely be a consultation document, with primary and secondary legislation needed to necessitate anything amounting to “radical planning reform” i.e. a 2021 rather than a 2020 change.
There were two notable teasers in Robert Jenrick’s article. The first was that land will have three designations – Growth, Renewal and Protection. We read this as Growth (greenfield land previously identified for development in a Plan), Renewal (previously developed land) and Protection (Green Belt, AONB and perhaps Conservation Areas). On the face of it, this is rebadging the existing system. There would still be a hotly disputed Development Plan to identify the extent of land for Growth, Renewal and Protection, and the bigger issue may be the mechanism for identifying the quantum of growth each authority has to deliver and whether the system will require authorities to plan for and deliver it all, or not.
The second teaser was that “permission in principle” will be available in areas of Renewal. Permission in Principle (PIP) was introduced in 2018 and has been a disaster, with it being at an authority’s discretion as to which sites are granted PIP. PIP provides the authority with a fraction of the planning fee that a conventional planning application would command and a reduced level of control, therefore authorities have exercised their discretion and tended to not PIP any sites. This approach would clearly need to be amended, potentially by requiring an authority to PIP a percentage of the brownfield supply in its area.
If these are the extent of the changes, they do not amount to radical reform, though they may speed up the planning system. A shift towards the Australian zoning system has been touted in the preceding months by the Government, and this may affect wider change. Watch last week’s vlog on this topic (by selecting here) and if there is further substance in this week’s policy paper, we will update you.