Council planning teams will look rather different by 2020, by Richard Garlick

Five years from now, the period covered by last week's government spending review will have ended. By then, how is the English planning system likely to have changed as a result of what the chancellor said last week?

A greater proportion of the country will no doubt be covered by local plans. Councils without them already faced a government instruction to "produce" one (whatever that means) by 2017 or face intervention. Last week George Osborne added that councils which lose more than ten per cent of appeals against refusals of major schemes could also be stripped of planning powers - another spur to get plans in place.

But the potential of these plans to deliver more sustainable, less opportunistic development may be undermined by the government's new enthusiasm for building housing on previously developed green belt sites, which could entice developers away from plots allocated in plans. Planning committees will also be under more pressure to approve applications, given that central government is to monitor whether their delivery of housing permissions matches the sites allocated in their plans.

Town hall chief executives, more financially reliant than ever before on business rates income, will no doubt urge councillors to think carefully before rejecting commercial or industrial applications on social or environmental grounds. Decisions on minor applications will also by then have to be taken twice as quickly as they are now.

Conversations between housebuilders and development management teams about planning obligations seem likely to have changed hugely by 2020. As well as, or maybe instead of, debating the proportion of affordable rented homes to be included in schemes, as is so often the case today, the two parties will be arguing over the number of discounted homes for youngish first-time buyers. But arguments about viability may become less time-consuming, if the government fulfils its pledge to produce a standard model for calculating it.

The increased difficulty of securing affordable homes for rent through planning obligations may mean that, by then, local authority planners are spending more time working closely with colleagues in the property or regeneration departments, or with private sector developers, trying to work out how to use council assets to fund new housing or, indeed, other services. The incentive for them to do so was boosted last week by Osborne's promise to allow town halls to spend all of the income raised from selling assets to improve services.

Many council planning teams will no doubt look rather different by then. With planning still not a statutory requirement, and no increase in planning fees announced - despite many rumours that this would be included in the chancellor's speech - chief executives will doubtless again be looking to cut planning department costs. We can expect more planning services to be merged, and more to be outsourced. Fee-generating development management teams may find it easier than less obviously income-producing plan-making teams to fend off the reductions, although the 2017 local plan target will at least help the latter's cause. Planning in England in 2020 will clearly be very different to how it is today.

Richard Garlick, editor, Planning

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