Planning White Paper: the sector reacts

Reaction has been coming in from across the planning and development sectors to publication of the government's Planning For The Future white paper: updated Fri 7 August 12 noon.

Image: DougPR (CC0)
Image: DougPR (CC0)

For the Labour Party, shadow housing and planning minister Mike Amesbury MP described the proposals as "a developer's charter that will see communities sidelined in decisions", adding that they would "blight communities with a new wave of slum housing".

But Land Promoters and Developers Federation (LPDF) chairman Paul Brocklehurst said they show the intent "to simplify the planning system to better enable the delivery of the government's 300,000 dwellings per annum target by the mid 2020s", adding that the government appeared to have taken on board initiatives set out in its recent Building a Recovery paper.

Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) policy manager Tamara Hooper also welcomed the proposals, saying they support "a quicker, more streamlined system that doesn't lower either standards, building quality, internal environment or planning of placement for new homes".

On zoning

Hooper added: "Government has shown a recognition that identifying land within plans and then ensuring it can be easily built on is vital for quicker development. This reflects RICS' call for a new 'amberfield' land category."

Designating areas for growth or renewal "would mean local authorities taking on a much more proactive role in assessing sites for their suitability to deliver high-quality homes", according to HTA Design head of planning Dr Riëtte Oosthuizen. "This will require the right skills, including in-house architectural skills to test capacity through design proposals. It will also require a huge culture change."

Keystone Law planning partner Oliver Goodwin warned: "Experience of zoning plans for other countries is that they are at least as long and as complex as our current local plans, as they have to set out all the standards with which proposals must comply. It is unrealistic to expect this transformation and the new process to be quicker than the current framework."

And while welcoming the government's apparent "brownfield first approach", Tom Fyans, deputy chief executive of CPRE, the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said that for this to work, "local authorities need to be able to prioritise the building of those sites and reject unnecessary losses of greenfield land".

On the decision-making process

Campaign group the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) said it is "deeply concerned that the proposals will undermine local democracy, marginalise local councils and fail to achieve the kind of high-quality places that the government is committed to delivering". TCPA chief executive Fiona Howie said: "We are obviously disappointed that our long-standing calls for a more people-centred system focused on health and well-being have not been taken up."

The move towards greater use of technology, including visual mapping and spatial tools to make plans and the planning process more accessible, "is long overdue", Tibbalds Planning and Urban Design director Matt Shillito said.

Real estate services company Savills had proposed revisions to the standard method for determining local housing need, which could now be introduced as early as this autumn. "What remains unclear is how the physical size of an authority that might constrain its ability to meet its full need, or how environmental factors and matters such as the green belt, will be taken into account," its planning director Jonathan Dixon said. 

But Iain Painting, senior partner at planning and design consultancy Barton Willmore, called the proposed abolition of the five-year housing land supply test "a huge concern", adding: "Without the stick of five-year land supply, we will need other mechanisms – and carrots – to drive delivery. What sanctions will be imposed upon failing authorities?"

On design controls

Nicholas Boys Smith, co-chair of the Building Better Building Beautiful Commission, whose report the white paper draws on, welcomed its proposals on locally popular design codes and the "fast track for beauty". He added: "It is now up to the design and development industries to consider and reflect on these proposals so that the country can deliver on both the quality and the quantity of new places that we need."

Heather Lindley-Clapp, associate director at consultancy Nexus Planning's Manchester office, said the requirement for local authorities to produce detailed local design guidance "will require input from experts across the field", adding: "Using best practice guidance will assist local authorities, but this will likely be a relatively costly and lengthy process."

Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport (ADEPT) president Nigel Riglar said that, despite nods to sustainable building in the paper, "the carbon-neutral by 2050 proposal is a retrofit timebomb". He added: "Houses built now are not being built to meet that target, so householders will foot the bill to decarbonise their homes. My fear is housebuilders won't start building carbon-neutral homes until 2051."

On developer contributions

"At first glance there appears to be a complete overhaul of the developer contribution system," said Claire Dutch, partner and co-head of planning and environment at law firm Ashurst. "But, again, another form of tax is proposed which inevitably will come with a set of rules. The spectre of land value capture has re-emerged, which will strike fear into the hearts of many developers."

Ian Ginbey, partner at law firm Clyde & Co, said that while it was "unsurprising" that the white paper proposes applying the new infrastructure levy to some permitted development rights schemes, including office to residential conversions and new demolition and rebuild permitted development rights, "it will inevitably introduce a disincentive to undertaking such development".

Next steps

"As with all reforms, the big question is transition and implementation, and avoiding hiatus while we move from system A to system B," said Matthew Spry, senior director at planning and development consultancy Lichfields. "It will take several years to get these new arrangements in place, including primary legislation and new policy – lots of details to work out."

Tim Hellier, partner and head of planning and zoning at law firm Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, pointed out: "Attempts at radical reform are almost invariably watered down when the reality of unintended consequence becomes apparent through the consultation exercise." Jason Lowes, partner at property and planning consultancy Rapleys, added: "Implementation of any measures is only likely to start early in the new year, at the earliest."

Savills head of planning David Jackson said the proposed measures "need to be supported by the necessary resources, both in terms of planning professionals deployed at local authority level and the necessary supporting investment in technology". And he added: "There is also no mention of delivering housing to rent, a significant recent contributor to meeting the range of England's housing needs."

Despite the "inevitable" emphasis on housing, Robbie Owen, planning partner at law firm Pinsent Masons, said the government "needs to get a grip on the growing list of issues with getting planning for major infrastructure projects, which are equally important to the recovery".

Pointing out that "to date, every attempt to simplify the planning system has only served to make it more complicated", law firm Irwin Mitchell said it is "doubtful of how simple a system can be when it will only apply to England". With planning and the environment now devolved matters, "cross-border developments are now likely to become more complex as Wales and Scotland look to forge their own way in these areas", it said.

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