Planning overhaul – key points from the Government’s white paper

The Government has published its planning white paper – setting out its intentions for planning reforms in England.

Government's planning white paper | BTR News

The Government has published its white paper setting out its intentions for planning reforms, which Prime Minister Boris Johnson described as “unlike anything we have seen since the second world war”. Public consultations on the proposals are now open to the public until 29 October 2020.

The document – Planning for the future – proposes reforms to speed up and modernise the planning system and to get the country building. Currently only 50% of local areas have plans to build more homes. The new proposals will require all Local Authorities in England to create local plans that split jurisdiction into three categories:

  • Land in growth areas – will be approved for development at the same time that plans are prepared, if local design standards are met.
  • Land in renewal areas will enable much quicker development where it is well-designed in a way which reflects community preferences.
  • Land in protected areas – development on Green Belt land will continue to be restricted as it’s now with policy remaining a decision for local authorities as they prepare their plans.

The paper proposes reforms that aim to streamline the process, cut red tape, and use technology to deliver homes quicker. It would also allow more building on brownfield sites, and highlights building beautiful homes with communities at the heart of the new planning system.

“We welcome the Government’s mooted planning reforms but wait with anticipation for the detail. Addressing the UK’s housing crisis is complex and it’s important that Government works closely with key players across the housing industry to ensure that better quality homes are delivered in the places that people actually want to live – and with the service and amenities they deserve and increasing demand. 

“It’s clear that purpose-built high-quality rental property will become an increasingly critical component of the national housing supply, with operators like Moda Living delivering beautifully designed and professionally serviced accommodation.” 

James Blakey, Planning Director, Moda

What the planning reforms will mean – other key points

Other key points from the planning white paper include:

  • New PropTech Innovation Council – to utilise innovative new approaches to fully digitalise the planning process.
  • Aims to establish a new body to support the delivery of design codes which will be incorporated into local plans.
  • Creating a fast-track system for beautiful buildings and establishing local design guidance for developers to build and preserve beautiful communities.
  • Local communities will be consulted from the start of the planning process.
  • Using technology through online maps and data, so the whole system is more accessible.
  • Overhaul of the planning process, replaced with a clearer, rules-based system.
  • A new national levy based on the final value of developments – but set to tariffs at the time of planning permission. The levy doesn’t apply to smaller developments below a set threshold.
  • 30-month window to agree local housing plans – down from seven years, or 42 months for councils that have enacted a new local plan within the past three years.
  • From 2025, new homes are expected to produce 75% to 80% less CO2 emissions – making homes zero carbon ready.

“Nothing excites the British public like changes to planning policy and the Government’s latest proposals for change to the current planning system will be seismic and a game changer on many levels. While still in consultation, this government has already shown policy pragmatism, so the final changes are likely to be quite different from the more salacious headlines reported recently.

“Cutting to the impact on Build to Rent projects, we expect to see much more fluidity in consents and acceptance of Build to Rent as a mainstream provider of homes. Government planning policy will major on increased delivery – and post Covid-19, ownership will be neither as desirable nor accessible to an even greater number of new home seekers.”

Peter Sloane, Chair, Love to Rent

Industry thoughts

Mary-Anne Bowring, Group Managing Director, Ringley said: “The planning reforms announced by Robert Jenrick are certainly welcome news. For years now, the property industry has warned that the planning system is ‘broken and outdated’ – so it’s good to see the government move towards a simpler, rules-based system that will make delivering new homes easier.

“While a lot will depend on the local plans and design codes that are adopted, the zonal based system – earmarking land for growth, renewal or protection – will help with the reshaping of town and city centres across the country, which will need repurposing post-pandemic as we adapt to new ways of working, living and shopping.

“One disappointing element to the government’s planning white paper is the continued focus on first-time buyers, with nothing on how to boost the supply of rental housing despite private renters being the fastest growing part of the housing market. 

“Having already abolished stamp duty for most first-time buyers and introduced a stamp duty holiday generally, the government should look to scrap the additional levy on buy-to-let investors, who still provide the mainstay of private rented accommodation.

“The government should also be encouraging institutional investors such as pension funds and insurers, who previously would have invested in offices and shopping centres, to fund the creation of purpose-built rental housing.”

Earle Arney, CEO & Founder, Arney Fender Katsalidis said: “Halleluiah! Our broken planning system has what looks like the beginnings of long overdue reform. I applaud the government’s gusto in doing more than tinkering with a failed ‘planning by omission’ mantra, essentially based on articulating what is not possible, rather than what should be encouraged.  I also breathe a sigh of relief that the Green Belt is being protected –  as I know from my firm’s research, there is ample well-connected land to supply the necessary housing to meet our 2050 population forecasts, all without building on the Green Belt. It’s disappointing that mandatory ‘zero carbon-ready’ homes are being pushed back to 2050 but encouraging that the commitment remains nevertheless. All in all, the reforms are a great start in improving a system that compounds the embarrassing housing crisis, which is only getting worse.

“But the problems are, of course, much bigger than those addressed by the whitepaper. In addition to legislation, the exorbitant costs in both time and money demanded over a long drawn-out planning process need urgent attention, as they are the true hamstring on development. Better funding and resourcing of local planning departments is crucial to delivering homes in a timely manner and something that as a country we are wholly inadequate at. In the meantime, consideration should also be given to creating a Special Purpose Vehicle to preside over land that falls with the GLA defined Brownfield and Opportunity Sites – effectively removing responsibility from local boroughs as was the case with the Olympic Development Authority  – when we last created mass housing within a restricted time period.

“The proposed changes to CIL and developer contributions are interesting, as the details develop, we may see it become a welcome way to simplify and speed the glacial process that exists today, while guarding their contribution to underpinning affordable housing provision. The principal of Zonal planning is encouraging if it can be developed further to create more Build to Rent homes, which are often priced out of the market by the higher land values afforded by Open Market Sales (OMS) homes.

“Obviously, helping the Build to Rent market is a good outcome in terms of getting on and building much needed homes for Londoners – but also it could tackle affordability if done right. The reforms still need to go further on tackling affordability, encouraging better space standards (which should be both qualitative and quantitative), incentivising housing delivery on consents – and there are also now even bigger questions over quality (especially with the potential for Permitted Development of disused commercial property to be substandard).

“On balance, this is clearly a welcome step forward. Let’s use the consultation period to make the reforms far more reaching and more effective.”