The government published the much anticipated white paper on 5 August 2020, which focuses on the reform of the English planning system. The white paper has five key aims for reform which seek changes in order to speed up the planning process and deliver more housing, which will be beautiful but sustainable, and make the planning system more user-friendly for members of the public.

What are some of the proposed changes?

Plan-making in England

The Local Plan shall be simplified into one condensed document which will separate land into three categories:

  • Growth, which is considered suitable for substantial development. Outline applications will be automatically secured for certain forms and types of development specified in the plan;
  • Renewal, meaning areas “suitable for development” where the presumption in favour of development would apply; and
  • Protected areas where development is restricted, such as the Green Belt and areas of natural beauty.
Modernising the planning process by going digital

The aim is to standardise the process, update the software and move to a mapping system with the intention to make it easier for the local authority and the community to navigate the planning process by switching the focus to data.

Focus on design and sustainability

The reform seeks to ensure that the planning system assists in combatting climate change and maximising environmental benefits. The government wish developments to be net zero by 2020 but still focusing on ‘the creation of beautiful places.’ This will link with the Building Better, Building Beautiful report which came out earlier this year.

A new infrastructure levy

This could see the abolishment of planning obligations under s.106 and the Community Infrastructure Levy and have it replaced by one infrastructure levy.

Ensure land is available for homes and development people and communities need

The government have a target of delivering 300,000 homes annually and 1 million over this parliament. Ensuring there is sufficient land will help reach those targets

What could this mean for housing providers?

Focusing particularly on the new categories of land and the amendments to planning obligations and CIL, the planning system could potentially be in for a major shake-up.

Planning permission

The new land categories could see permissions being granted in a more streamlined process. Automatic approval of outline permissions in “growth areas” would reduce the current timescales and bring more certainty to those preparing applications. More detailed permissions could be secured by way of reserved matters, a Local Development Order or a Development Consent Order (for exceptionally large sites)

As well as the three ‘main’ categories, sub-categories have been proposed. For instance, in the growth category the sub-categories may focus on self and custom build homes or community led housing developments.

The Renewal category is for the purpose of smaller scale developments in already residential areas or development in town centres where gentle densification is suitable. There would be a statutory presumption in favour of development which again could see a more streamlined process for, and a higher number of, planning applications.

In theory more applications could be approved under the proposals but there are currently no comments on potential sanctions for wasted applications. This has already raised criticism from the Local Government Association’s chairman, James Jamieson, stating that in the last decade more than a million homes have received planning permission but they have yet to be built.

The end of s106 and CIL?

Albeit the length of time to negotiate s106 agreements has been at the forefront of discussions for some time, the proposals to abolish planning obligations and CIL will come as a shock to many, as s.106 agreements, preceded by s.52 agreements have been a way of life for a very long time.

The new infrastructure levy will be a charge based on a fixed proportion of the final development value, but only above a certain threshold. At this stage it is not clear what that threshold will be and what that could mean for the level of contributions/provision of affordable housing in the future.

At present financial contributions secured under a planning obligation are payable at various stages of development and occupation and CIL is payable upon commencement of development. The proposed Levy would not be payable until occupation of the development and would be calculated on the value of the final development – this will no doubt be welcome news for developers, but pushes back the receipt of funds for local authorities who need to pay for services.

If s106 agreements are abolished, there is concern there will be no requirement forcing developers to produce onsite affordable housing which is to the standard of the market housing. Shelter have heavily criticised this move. Planning obligations are one of the only ways councils can require developers to provide affordable housing and, without this, social housing could ‘face extinction’. Robert Jenrick has defended the vast criticism which he has already received from the recent publications by arguing that they will be “actually asking developers to pay more” in contributions.

The consultation will certainly have many varied responses but currently the perception of the paper is negative and deemed insufficient.

What happens next?

The consultation is now open to everyone and ends 29 October 2020.  

How Capsticks can help

Our Housing & Regeneration team, one of the largest in the country, advises on all types of development transactions from forward funded schemes, section 106 developments and stock rationalisations to plot sales and general asset management work. We are experts on all aspects of planning law including s106 agreements, CIL advice, planning appeals, Compulsory Purchase Orders and all general planning law matters.

If you have any queries around what's discussed in this article, and the impact on your organisation, please speak to Suzanne Smith, Chimi Shakohoxha, or any of your contacts at Capsticks, to find out more about how we can help.