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Government publishes outline of radical changes to planning system

Significant changes to developer contributions to local infrastructure, the introduction of ‘zoning’ into planning law and a requirement for local authorities to complete local plans within 30 months are amongst the proposed changes to the planning system in England officially published by the government today (6th August).

Under the proposals contained in the government’s consultation document, ‘Planning for the Future’, the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) and s106 agreements will replaced with a new national Infrastructure Levy which will apply above to developments above a certain threshold. The rate will be set nationally (albeit with possible local variations) but the proceeds will be spent locally on new roads, playgrounds and discounted homes for local first-time buyers.

The white paper says that the total raised through the new scheme is expected to be greater than is currently collected through s106 and CIL. Local authorities are to be given greater control over how developer contributions are used.

All local authorities will be required to have a local plan, which the proposals say would need to be finalised within a statutory 30-month time limit, compared with the seven years it typically takes to complete a local plan. Local plans be expected to designate land into one of three categories – growth, renewal or protected.

Land identified for growth within these local plans are those that are “suitable for substantial development”, with an emphasis on brownfield sites and university clusters. They will have automatic outline planning permission for forms and types of development outlined in the plan to reduce the amount of time required before development can begin.

However, development decisions over green belt land will remain within the remit of local authorities.

Renewal areas will generally be existing urban areas where “gentle” increases in densification and infill building should be facilitated. This will include small sites on the edge of villages. Protected areas are those – such as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Sites of Special Scientific Interest, flood risk areas or wildlife havens – which would be subject to stringent development controls.

The primary purpose of local plans under the new regime will be to reduce time taken to gain planning permission by clearly identifying sites for development (and those that should be protected) and to identify which types of development should go where. There will be a single statutory “sustainable development” test against which local plans will be evaluated.

The new regime would also introduce a new nationally determined binding housing requirement for local plans in areas where affordability pressures are greatest, to prevent land supply becoming a constraint on housebuilding.

There will also be a fast-track process for ‘beautiful’ buildings which abide by locally produced design standards. All planning authorities will be required to have a chief officer for design and plan-making, supported by a national body to support the creation of local design codes.

Development management policies will be set nationally rather than being contained within local plans and the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) will become the primary source of policy.

All new streets are to be tree-lined and all new homes will be required to be ‘zero carbon ready’. A ‘First Homes’ scheme is also proposed that will provide a 30% discount for local, first-time and key worker buyers.

The white paper calls for greater transparency of and local input into plan-making, including the adoption of new digital tools to enable people to contribute to the process.

At the same time, the government has launched a new consultation on how local housing need is assessed and on extending the exemption of small sites from paying s106 contributions, with the aim of helping smaller developers, whose proportion of new builds has fallen from 40% to 12% over the past 30 years due in part, the government said, to the complexity of the existing planning process.

Responding to the Government’s ‘Planning for the Future’ proposals to overhaul the planning system, Cllr James Jamieson, Chairman of the Local Government Association, said the government needed to do more to ensure that the million plus houses that had been given planning permission over the past decade actually get built.

“Nine in 10 applications are approved by councils with more than a million homes given planning permission over the last decade yet to be built. The system needs to ensure planning permissions are built. Any loss of local control over developments would be a concern. It would deprive communities of the ability to define the area they live in and know best and risk giving developers the freedom to ride roughshod over local areas.”

“We will need to look properly at these proposals in detail, but councils share the aspiration of improving the current planning system to provide greater certainty for communities, encourage brownfield development , to deliver better infrastructure and increase local involvement.

The full consultation document is available at:

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