Five key messages from the TCPA conference

The Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) held its annual conference in London in November. Here are five key things we learnt from the event:

Housing minister Kit Malthouse
Housing minister Kit Malthouse

Boosting resources and skills in the planning system will be key to being able to deliver the government’s housing targets, planning minister Kit Malthouse said. Giving a keynote speech at the conference, Malthouse said the government is still "thinking about how we might introduce" the further 20 per cent increase in planning application fees it has previously consulted on, following the initial 20 per cent increase introduced in January. "We are willing to look more at what we need to do to increase capacity," he said. Malthouse said a key problem is a shortage of people in the profession, which is "not just about volume but about planners in the right places at the right time". It will be crucial to find ways of sharing resources and spreading expertise, he said.

Councils need to put in place "a really generous land supply" in order to be able to better control issues such as design and section 106 requirements. Malthouse said: "If you are a local authority leader, my recommendation to you would be to rip the plaster off and make sure you have a really generous land supply. Because if you’ve got a ten to 15-year land supply then you are running the table on everything, from design to section 106 to build out."

"You now have powers in the National Planning Policy Framework to turn things down on the basis of design, or to take account of an applicant’s record of delivery," he said. "If you are turning something down within a framework of a generous land supply then you are bullet-proof from a Planning Inspectorate point of view."

The TCPA’s review found "very widespread dissatisfaction" with the outcomes being delivered by the planning system, the organisation’s president said. Nick Raynsford, who led the review, told the conference that dissatisfaction with the way the system operates is "widely shared across sectors," including developers, communities, planners and councillors. "There is widespread appetite for change, for improvements and for a better planning system, but little common ground on what should be those changes," he said. "Very different recipes were brought forward by different interest groups - so we had to weigh those up." TCPA interim chief executive High Ellis announced that the association will publish a follow-up report on Raynsford’s review in six months’ time, looking to see how far the government has taken on board its recommendations.

The TCPA is set to launch a new campaign against the "scandal" of permitted development rights, it announced at the conference. The association’s interim chief executive and head of policy Hugh Ellis said it will be launching an "evidence-led campaign" that will run for a year to highlight adverse outcomes resulting from rights to convert commercial buildings to housing without full planning permission. The campaign, provisionally titled Room to Breathe, will campaign for basic housing standards and for powers over conversions to be given back to local authorities, Ellis said.

The Housing Delivery Test will force local authorities to get used to using compulsory purchase orders (CPOs), a leading planning lawyer told the conference. Stephen Ashworth, a partner at law firm Dentons, said councils are "going to have to work out for themselves how to do CPOs". "Why is that? Because the delivery test will force you to do it," he said. "If you have allocated sites that aren’t coming forward because of people bickering about values, you’re going to be the ones that face the consequences, so you will have to work out how you address it. One of the tools in the armoury will be the potential use or at least the threat of the use of CPOs, so everybody is going to have to get used to them."

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