Housing conference: Further changes on the way, chief planner signals

Ministers' appetite for planning reform remains 'undiminished', with measures to tackle local authorities' failure to plan for an ageing population next on the government's agenda, the chief planner said today.

DCLG chief planner Steve Quartermain at today's event
DCLG chief planner Steve Quartermain at today's event

Speaking today at the inaugural Planning for Housing conference in London, Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) chief planner Steve Quartermain said that ministers' "appetite for further change is undiminished".

"You can see that in the recent consultation document, which even we refer to as the 'bumper consultation document', Quartermain said.

The technical consultation on planning, published by the DCLG in July, included a range of changes, including a further expansion of permitted development rights and measures to streamline the neighbourhood planning process.

The chief planner told the conference, organised by Planning, that ministers believe that measures recently put in place have made a difference, pointing to progress on local plan adoption and the uptake of neighbourhood plans.

But Quartermain added that tackling councils' failure to plan for an ageing population is "an issue we need to address".

"You will have heard ministers talk quite recently about the approach to housing for an ageing population," the chief planner said.

"I can point to the National Planning Policy Framework and say, 'Well it does tell you to plan for a mix of housing uses', but I can then point to on ground and it isn't actually happening."

Quartermain added that the government is examining measures to turn planning approvals into starts. "We need people to start building," he said.

The chief planner also told delegates that the DCLG is continuing to work on its Right to Build initiative to give custom builders the right to a plot from councils. The government will consult on the details of the initiative later this year, he said.

And he added that a £3.5 million fund would fund efforts to examine "how people's attitudes to development can be changed".

"We're looking at pilots, we have a £3.5 million fund to look at how we might address those issues," Quartermain said. "That's an approach we are looking to design and implement in partnership with local authorities."

Speaking during a Q&A session later at the conference, Quartermain dismissed suggestions that the government's new online planning practice guidance is unsuitable for use at public inquiries and examination hearings.

He said: "Strictly speaking, you can print the guidance ... if you want to create a paper copy. Our view is that it is usable. You can take it into village halls in Northumberland."

Quartermain also reiterated that decisions about garden cities and new towns are "decisions for local councils". He said: "If the community take a view that is a way forward for their plan then they can do so, but it needs to be locally-led, locally-driven and locally delivered."

Catch up with all the news from the Planning for Housing conference here.

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