Ministers 'considering development zones with relaxed rules as part of New Deal for planning'

Development zones with relaxed planning rules and further permitted development (PD) rights are expected as part of a “New Deal” for planning being prepared by the government, according to press reports today.

London's Canary Wharf: 1980s enterprise zone
London's Canary Wharf: 1980s enterprise zone

The Financial Times (FT) reported today that ministers are expected to announce a “major overhaul” of the English planning system in an attempt to revive the economy as the country emerges from the coronavirus pandemic.

Earlier this week The Sunday Times reported that ministers were considering introducing a zonal system whereby decisions over applications would be made by development corporations rather than councils.

According to today's FT, the plans are being described by ministers as a “New Deal” for planning, which ministers hope "can be agreed in time for a wider economic announcement in July by [Chancellor] Rishi Sunak".

An examination of the potential for greater use of local development orders and “other zonal tools” will form part of the government’s forthcoming Planning White Paper, the Minister for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) revealed earlier this year.

Other proposals now under consideration, according to the FT story, include the creation of new "development zones", in "which private developers will play an expanded role". These would be similar to enterprise zones, it goes on to say, where planning rules would be relaxed and the government would make significant investments in infrastructure.

"These would be along the lines of the London Docklands Development Corporation, which was set up in the early 1980s and led to the building of Canary Wharf and the wider regeneration of the Docklands area in the east of the capital," the article adds.

Design codes may also be given greater weight in planning decisions so that “attractive” buildings can be fast-tracked through the planning process.

"The model for that could be the “as-of-rights” system used in the US whereby a proposed development that complies with all applicable zoning codes does not require any special consideration from the authorities," the article states.

Earlier this year, the government 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.

According to the FT, PD rights are also likely to be expanded to allow further changes of use for new housing without the need for planning permission.

The Sunday Times reported that an expert panel has been convened to look into “very substantive changes” to planning rules, which included 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 today's Financial Times, the panel also includes Nicholas Boys Smith, founder of Create Streets, co-chair of the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission; and Miles Gibson, head of UK research at property advisory group CBRE.

Quoted in the FT piece, Alistair Watson, head of planning and environment at law firm Taylor Wessing said the changes amounted to a "stratospheric planning change".

Speaking to Planning, Watson said the government is "really serious about changes we’ve talked about for years ... It’s about time”.

In response, an MHCLG spokesman said: "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."

In an endorsement of a new think tank report earlier this week, housing secretary Robert Jenrick said the government wanted to “rethink planning from first principles”, adding: “The time has come to speed up and simplify this country’s overly bureaucratic planning process.”

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