Law Society warns on sustainability of government planning reforms, expresses concern at centralised decision-making

Hurried planning reforms “will not be sustainable and risk causing damage to the physical environment”, the Law Society has warned.

In its response to the government’s Planning for the Future consultation, Chancery Lane also said that many of the white paper’s proposals envisaged implementing centralised approaches at UK government level.

“Whilst this can enable a standardised approach, we’re concerned that too much centralised decision-making could lead to the needs of local communities and local democracy not being properly reflected in the new system,” it said.

“It’s important to make sure that the nuances of local, community and democratic elements of planning are not lost in an overarching, standardised system.”

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Other concerns raised by Chancery Lane in its response included:

  • The need to ensure the planning system is “adequately funded and resourced with the right people”
  • Reforms to the whole planning system at once “carries a risk of uncertainty, especially given the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the end of the transition period for leaving the European Union”
  • The lack of clarity and detail provided made it difficult to anticipate at this stage how positive or negative some of the changes might be. “For instance, more clarity is needed on the implications of allocating an area for growth or protection”
  • Whilst welcoming the prospect of simplifying local plans, “any such reform should not overlook the inherent complexities of the planning process. An overly simplistic new system could lead to unintended consequences”
  • In relation to developer contributions, there could be better ways of achieving the purpose of s106 than by replacing it with a levy. “Our experience from both private and public sectors is that s106 enables flexibility in decision making to achieve better planning outcomes”.

The consultation response was prepared by the Law Society’s planning and environmental law committee. Further information can be found here.

Law Society of England and Wales president David Greene said: “We welcome the opportunity to engage with the complex and much needed task of planning law reform.

“We have been closely monitoring the recent changes in planning legislation and guidance and we applaud the speed with which the government has responded to the current unprecedented situation.”

The Law Society supported action to boost the economy following the COVID-19 pandemic, he added.

“However, hurried reforms will not be sustainable and would risk uncertainty and damage to both the physical environment and the overarching principles of planning. Making sure that new laws are good laws will take time and thorough consultation is needed.”

The Law Society’s president said that however radical planning reforms were, they should also be carbon net-zero compatible.

“Planning law can and should play an essential part in achieving the UK’s climate change goals,” he said.

“We look forward to working with the government to develop effective new laws that will deliver recovery in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, without unintended consequences.”

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