MPs caution government’s planning reform

By - World Infrastructure Journal

MPs caution government’s planning reform

The Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee has called on the government to re-think its planning reform after it was ‘unpersuaded’ by the new approach.

In response to the government’s large-scale planning reform, the cross-party Committee, chaired by Clive Betts MP has been hearing evidence from a number of stakeholders and unveiled its findings last week. The future of the planning system in England report detailed a number of concerns over much of the features of the new system.

Notably, the report expressed a concern that had long been expressed by many local planning authorities – that they simply do not have the time and resources to enact these new changes. It explained that “the pressures on the system will only increase if the Government proceeds with its reforms” and an additional £500 million will be needed over four years by these authorities. It is only with this funding guaranteed, the report explains, that the government should precede with the Bill.

Funding infrastructure

There are also significant concerns over the loss of funding for infrastructure with changes to the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) and Section 106 agreements (s106). The former raises revenue for local infrastructure while the latter sets requirements on a build to give it planning permission. The plan is to combine these two into a singular National Infrastructure Levy but this fails to replace much of the affordable housing contributions that come as a result of s106 agreements.

The Committee was clear that it must preserve Section 106 in the reform process and must also put provisions in place for the new Levy. Instead of a blanket National Levy, it reiterated the committee’s earlier recommendation from 2017 that greater land value capture would generate more accurate revenue generation. Instead “If the Government does proceed it will need to charge various local rates and provide additional funding for the infrastructure that will not be met out of the levy revenues. ”

Unpersuaded by zones

Following the reform’s announcement there was also concern over the government’s ‘three areas' approach. This divided local areas into three zones - growth, renewal and protected, with different planning rules applicable to each. The Committee similarly reiterated this concern, explaining that “we are unpersuaded that the Government’s zoning-based approach will produce a quicker, cheaper, and democratic planning system."

Much of the criticism sits on the automatic planning approval given to growth and most renewal sites which many deemed would lead to a lack of adequate and safe buildings as well as affordable housing. The Committee explained that if the government is to carry on with this plan, it must set out more detailed plans for these zones, specifically outlining:

  • Heights of buildings
  • Density of developments
  • Minimum parking standards
  • Access to retail, education, transport, health facilities and other local amenities

Use it or lose it

Yet not all recommendations by the Committee have been welcomed by all, specifically on the use-it-or-lose-it tax. This is where developers could have their planning permission revoked if construction has not progressed to a satisfactory level after 18 months and then could be charged full council tax for each housing unit not completed after a further 18 months. This is a method to speed up delivery that has made its way round the policy circuit for nearly two decades and continuously failed to come to fruition. Its opponents explain that it fails to take into consideration difficulties building on certain sites and so could actually reduce the number of homes being built, not speed it up.

Despite this, others have been more enthusiastic. Councillor David Renard, Planning Spokesperson for the Local Government Association explained: "Councils want to work with government on developing the detail of its Planning Bill and to go further and faster to tackle our housing crisis.

“With more than 1.1 million homes given planning permission over the past decade yet to be built and councils approving 9 in 10 planning applications, it is clear that the planning system is not a barrier to housebuilding and that it is the housing delivery system which is in need of reform.

“There are also more than a million more homes on land earmarked in local plans for development by councils that are yet to be brought forward by developers for planning permission.

“It is therefore good the committee backs our call for councils to be able to levy full council tax on incomplete properties, as an incentive to get developers building more quickly.

“A local, democratically-led planning system remains critical so local communities can continue to have their say on developments, ensure the right homes are built in the right places and shape the area they live in. ”


Upon publication of the report, Chair of the Committee, Clive Betts said: "The government’s aim of developing a planning system that enables buildings to be built more quickly and with greater input from local communities is welcome, but it is far from clear how the current proposals will achieve this. The government’s three areas proposal needs to be reconsidered …

‘Of course, planning also has wider impacts beyond housing. There were many issues that weren’t addressed in the government’s proposals, including how the changes will affect the levelling-up agenda, economic recovery from Covid-19, and the environment. We ask for further information, and consultation, on all of these areas."

A Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government spokesperson said in response to the report: "We have not yet published a response to the consultation so these conclusions are speculative.

"As the report rightly identifies, the planning system is in need of improvement and our reforms will mean a quicker, more efficient and less bureaucratic planning system so we can build more much-needed homes across the country.

‘Local people and high-quality design will be at the heart of these changes while protecting our heritage and green spaces."

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