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Savills plc

06/10/2021 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 06/10/2021 05:46

Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee report on The Future of the Planning System in England

The report by the Committee is not binding on Government but it is an influential body which can effect change.

Chaired by Clive Betts MP, the Committee heard evidence from a range of stakeholders into the Government's proposed reforms to the planning system which were announced in August 2020.

The reforms to the planning system, contained within Planning for the Future, White Paper and associated consultation are expected to progress through new legislation and amendments to national planning policy and guidance (summarised here).

The Queen's Speech on 11 May 2021, stated that the Government intends to modernise the planning system so that more homes can be built.

Areas of the planning system scrutinised include:

  • Local plans
  • Housing requirements and delivery
  • Infrastructure provision
  • Design
  • Green Belt
  • Environmental and Heritage matters
  • Public engagement
  • Omission of issues in the consultation
  • Resources and skills in the planning system

The Committee received 154 pieces of written evidence and held three virtual oral evidence sessions, hearing from fourteen different witnesses.

A number of recommendations are contained in the report, intended to make the Government think further about the detail of reforms and how to make the planning system in England fit for purpose.

Resourcing and skills within the planning system is one of the areas that the Committee found needs urgent attention. The recommendation on this area comprises:

'The Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government should now seek to obtain a Treasury commitment for an additional £500 million over four years for local planning authorities. Providing this certainty of funding should precede the introduction of the Planning Bill.'

One of the key components of the Government's reforms is the simplification of local plans through identification of just three types of land within the plan-making system in England. The Committee was unpersuaded of this approach and as with all reforms, they are seeking greater clarity through more detail. The Committee recognise the need for effective cooperation between local authorities and request additional information regarding the replacement of the duty to cooperate - key to housing delivery.

The headline grabbing issue of housing requirements and delivery, featured strongly in the debate that followed publication of the White Paper, leading to a change in the scale of new housing requirements in England through amendments to the standard method. In this area the Committee agreed with the Government change in direction, whilst calling for a greater explanation of the Government's target of at least 300,000 new homes in England each year.

The uncertainty over reforms to the planning system prompted the Committee to recommend that the Planning Bill be brought forward in a draft form and be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny. While the emphasis on beauty in the White Paper is welcomed, the Committee recognize the need to consider a 'broader definition of design than one focused on aesthetics' - important given the subjective nature of 'beautiful' development.

It is also interesting that the Committee recommend a review of the purpose of the Green Belt - Savills have previously set out this should be subject to the same tests of sustainability as other planning policies and welcome this recommendation.

The Government will respond to the Committee's report and reflect upon the recommendation in the preparation of the Planning Bill. The recommendations are not controversial and are evidence-based following scrutiny.

What the recommendations are not able to do is to further define how the planning system, described by Government as 'outdated and ineffective', can change to meet the needs of the country. This will lead to more debate and consultation.

David Bainbridge, Director at Savills, said 'As we set out in our response to the Planning White Paper, any reform to the planning system must be introduced in a way that minimises the risk of consequent delays in decision-making; both on major proposals and on the progress of emerging local plans. Additional resource for planning departments is a welcome recommendation towards achieving this.'