Government 'set to back zonal planning system with more powers for development corporations', reports claim

The government is considering a "zonal planning system" where "key decisions will be taken from local councils and handed to development corporations" and has convened an expert panel to look into "very substantive changes" to the planning system, press reports at the weekend have claimed.

Dominic Cummings (pic: Getty)
Dominic Cummings (pic: Getty)

Yesterday's Sunday Times reported that the Prime Minister's chief advisor Dominic Cummings is "influential" in the government's thinking on planning, adding that "he and [housing secretary Robert] Jenrick are working together to kick-start housebuilding and infrastructure spending" as part of a plan by the chancellor and Prime Minister to stimulate the economy.

The newspaper said that, on Friday, a "committee of experts assembled by the duo met for the first time" to "think about very substantive changes" to planning rules.

It said the panel has been convened by Jenrick and Cummings and its expert members include Bridget Rosewell, a commissioner for the government's National Infrastructure Commission who also chaired a review into shortening appeal inquiry timescales; property developer Sir Stuart Lipton; and planning barrister Christopher Katkowski QC.

According to the newspaper, one of the proposed measures would allow high street businesses to change their use "with complete flexibility".

Such a move would echo comments made by local growth minister Jake Berry at the Conservative Party conference last year. Berry said he wanted the planning system to "move out of the way" to allow town centres to thrive, adding that he wanted to see a situation where a mortgage shop can close on a Friday and a nail bar "can open again on Saturday morning".

And "they will move to a zonal planning system where key decisions will be taken from local councils and handed to development corporations — though building on the green belt will not be permitted", the paper said.

In March, a document published alongside a policy paper Planning for the Future, launched in the wake of the Budget, said the government's impending Planning White Paper "will propose measures to accelerate planning".

It said that the government "will trial the use of templates for drafting local development orders and other zonal tools to create simpler models and financial incentives to support more effective use".

The Sunday Times also reported that measures will be introduced this week to relax planning controls "to enable pubs, cafés and restaurants to use outside areas".

The Mail on Sunday reported: "Ministers also want to make it easier for pubs to reconfigure so they can serve customers outside, and planning restrictions on the high street could be simplified so retail units can more easily change between shops, retail and residential use".

According to the newspaper, the plans "would be rolled together in a legislative agenda provisionally entitled the ‘Great Recovery Bill’", which would "sit alongside a mini-budget, pencilled in for July".

In March, the government announced that planning rules would be relaxed so pubs and restaurants can operate as hot food takeaways during the coronavirus outbreak.

Yesterday's Sunday Times added that, "Cummings and Jenrick are also backing a new fast-track system for developers of high-quality, well-designed buildings".

The announcements in the Planning for the Future document confirmed that the new 'Fast Track for Beauty' will be enshrined in the planning system. The measure was recommended by the government's Building Better Building Beautiful Commission.

Planning attempted to contact the individuals named as members of the expert panel but was either directed to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, or had received no response by time of publication.

Planning asked MHCLG to confirm the details in the newspaper stories.

A MHCLG spokesman responded: "The government has already set out an ambitious programme to modernise our planning system.

"Our 'Planning for the Future' reforms will support the delivery of homes that local people need and create greener communities with more beautiful homes.

"Further details will be published in due course."

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