Planning for the Future
This article is about Government's new proposals to make fundamental changes to the system under which Planning Permission is granted for new or changed buildings.
Our own quick and dirty opinion is that the proposals are a wolf in sheep's clothing that herald a disaster in the making.
We begin with an Introduction to the Government's new White Paper on Planning, before explaining the difference between 'White
Papers' and 'Green papers' then Summarising our view of the new 'Local' Planning system.
Next, we look at Who is driving the agenda, and -according to the Government, Why things need to change, and
What the new Anti-Planning Minister wants, which is to introduce chaos into the Planning system then reclassify land as being either for
'Growth' or for 'Renewal' or for .Protection' and what each of these might mean. We
follow this with our own take on What we've seen so far.
Then we look at What else the White Paper says about: 'Planning for Development', and
'Planning For Beautiful And Sustainable Places, then the Government's third main pillar 'Planning For Infrastructure And Connected Places'.
Next we look at 'The Other' Consultation' (called 'Changes To The Current Planning System') that was released more or less at the same
time, and we briefly summarise what it contains, before offering 'Our own take on the proposals' which, as readers might expect from what we've
said so far, are not very supportive of the proposals.
The Government has recently published new proposals for local planning.
Well, actually, they've published two documents. (They're both linked at the end of this article)
One is called 'Planning for the Future.' This heralds the changes, whilst 'Changes To The Current Planning System' paves the transition from today the
predicted sunlit uplands of tomorrow as they are set out in the main document.
In releasing these publications, we think the Government has just admitted its incompetence and its abject failure as it has messed about with England's Planning system.
We say that because in 2012 - having abandoned and discarded almost all the technical guidance and planning policy statements that has been honed, refined and polished over
the decades since the UK Town Planning system was introduced - the UK's first Anti-Planning Minister (Nick Boles MP) effectively 'nationalised' local planning by
introducing the 'National Planning Policy Framework' ( or NPPF)
The NPPF prescribed a framework of overarching planning rules with which every local council had to comply, and within which every council was obliged to fit their own,
subordinate, decisions on local planning matters.
And, having substantially revised and updated that same National Planning Policy (as recently as 2019), the present (and second) Anti-Planning Minister, Rt
Hon. Robert Jenrick MP now plans to throw the whole of the local planning system in the air again, and start again more or less from scratch.
If that's not an admission of incompetence and failure of Government - we don't know what it is
Successive Governments of all political hues keep attempting to micro- manage what should be locally-determined planning policy.
And that's not to mention that their
continual changing of local planning is inevitably accompanied by a huge waste of our money - quite possibly more than two million pounds in tiny Fylde's case.
WHITE PAPERS AND GREEN PAPERS
In early August, the Government published its White Paper 'Planning for the Future'.
White Papers are usually a Government statement of what they are going to do.
(White Papers are the more masterful relative of 'Green Papers - which are consultative documents about what Government is thinking of doing and wants to know what people and
groups think about it).
The first thing to note about this one is that, for a White Paper, it has an unusually large number of consultation proposals for the new planning system.
So why didn't they publish it as a Green Paper?
Cynics like us might think it was because they are hoping to afford the illusion of consultation by putting it in a White Paper when, in reality, they've already decided what
they're going to do.
It also means they can try to survive the furore that these changes will cause amongst local communities by saying that they were consulted on, so that
makes them alright.
The White Paper's 'consultation period' closes on 29 October 2020, and whatever the Government wants to implement by way of change will have to go through the normal process to introduce new
But separately, they have also published (for consultation until 1 October 2020) another document called 'Changes to the Current Planning System'.
This sets out to make quick changes that the Government says will 'improve the effectiveness of the current planning system' - and these moves won't need primary
legislation, so they won't go through the normal legislative process.
SO WHAT'S THE NEW PLAN?
It's all set out in Mr Jenrick's new 'White Paper'
And in reality, you don't need to go much further than the front cover of "Planning for the Future" to see how disingenuous and insincere its contents are.
The contents are a snarling wolf, but the cover is a friendly, soft and woolly sheep.
Despite the cover's somewhat 'artificial' look, we recognise it is actually a real life photograph of a 10 acre development at a place called Tregunnel Hill at Newquay in
Tregunnel Hill is said to be an example of development which proves that the principles used in Prince Charles’s famous 'Poundbury project' can be replicated in real life.
And we've no doubt they can.
But sadly, Prince Charles isn't going to be the mass housing provider who is filling the Fylde's farmland with new homes; any more than the Government really expects that their new
'Plan for the Future' will realistically deliver the picture on its front cover across Fylde and the rest of England.
Why might we have cause to say that?
Well, in the far distance of the cover we can see a pleasant, green naturalistic coastline landscape (before it gets built on).
In the middle distance is stretch of sea that looks like it has been Photoshopped to a turquoise hue that you only ever see in pictures of Caribbean or Bermudianan beaches.
In the foreground is a headland with two sorts of housing that are so different in style that they look to have been cut from somewhere else and pasted in as Photoshop
layers standing out against the azure sea.
The more distant of these two 'blocks' of housing looks what most people would expect of a typical small UK urban area.
Apart from a couple of five or six story apartment
blocks or hotels in the distance, the housing area that leads the eye down to the middle of the picture is a mix of typical Edwardian or Victorian gothic style 1900's housing,
together with the odd bungalow.
But in the close foreground, a distinctly different swathe of housing exists.
It has many more noticeable changes of roof colour, giving the foreground landscape the appearance of being a mix of Mediterranean terra cotta tiles and greyish slate.
Furthermore, the gable ends of some houses have been coloured peacock blue, (perhaps trying to make us think we are abroad) whilst others have been painted in a
palette of colours from
the1940s era of pastel pinks, greens, blues and yellows.
But what we all know and see around us, (the mass housebuilding that uses estate-wide standardised house styles that now even have 'brand names') - represents a stark
contrast with the picture of what this cover wants us to believe Government is aiming for, and the reality of what the contents are likely to deliver.
No. We think the real aim of the contents is to build more houses to get the economy moving.
We also think this incarnation of Government - in particular - has failed to grasp that its domestic role in relation to planning is not to enable the building of houses; it
is to enable and encourage the building of communities.
To us, its new 'Planning for the Future' White Paper is predicated on a series of 'opias'
- It promises a housing Cornucopia.
- It heralds housing Utopia
- But we think it will actually deliver Dystopia.
SO WHO IS DRIVING THIS AGENDA?
Well, ultimately it is the Prime Minister of course (or perhaps his special adviser Dominic Cummings who seems to be steering much of the Government's direction these days),
but it is the Rt. Hon. Robert Jenrick MP, current Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government who has owned up to publishing the White Paper.
Sadly, his knowledge and understanding of Local Government doesn't compare with at least one of his predecessors.
If a new planning system had been published by the bluff, no nonsense (now Lord) Eric Pickles - who had a lifetime of experience and understanding in running Local
Government - we're pretty sure wouldn't be writing this story in the way we are.
But sadly, that's not the case, and Mr Jenrick now has the job.
Having qualified as a solicitor in 2008 and practised corporate law for the first part of his working life, Mr Jenrick's Parliamentary experience dates back only five years.
(He first stood -unsuccessfully - for election in 2010, but was elected as an MP in 2014).
In that very short period since 2014, he worked in stints under Employment Minister Esther McVey, and the Justice Department under Michael Gove and Liz Truss, and the Home Office under
Amber Rudd. Theresa May appointed him Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury under Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond for just over a year before the Present Prime
Minister appointed him to be the country's Communities and Housing Secretary in July 2019.
It must therefore be true to say he has no significant background knowledge or experience of local government planning on which he can draw to test the ideas he is now promoting.
WHY DO THINGS NEED TO CHANGE?
Well, the headline issues in the new plan come about because Mr Jenrick says it's taking far too long to get houses built.
He chooses to ignore the fact that most developers prefer to build houses at a relatively slow rate - so they don't flood the market (which would depress the prices they can
achieve for what they do build).
Taking just Fylde as an example, very few development sites here complete more than about 50 new homes a year. Developers know that in Fylde, the average year round selling
rate is about one house a week per site.
Rather, Mr Jenrick focuses on what he sees as the problems of the present planning system to justify the changes he wants to make. His complaints about it are:
1). It is too complex
(Yes, but it's the Government (not local councils) who actually made the laws that cause it's complexity)
2). Planning decisions are discretionary rather than rules-based.
This is a truly awful statement. it comes from a mindset that we call 'inhuman'. It takes no account of humanity, and it sounds like he wants planning permissions granted by
an algorithm - and you'd think he might have learned something about the problems with algorithms in the last few weeks.
3). It takes too long to adopt a Local Plan
(But it's the Government itself that set the legal requirements creating the timeframe within which a Local Plan had to be made)
4). Assessments of housing need, viability and environmental impacts are too complex and opaque.
(So who was it that REQUIRED local councils to commission expensive assessments of housing need?
Who was it that introduced the use of Viability Assessments that allowed and
supported developers to get out of having to build affordable housing?
And who does he think it was who voted to introduce the legal requirement that REQUIRED local councils to
commission Environmental Impact Assessments).
5). It has lost public trust.
(The greatest lost of public trust in planning exists because the Government keeps finding ways of stopping local councils from refusing development that local people don't
want in their areas.)
6). It is based on 20th-century technology.
(Well, maybe. But the 'still wet behind the ears' 21 Century and it's marvellous (and wholly-up-to-date) technology that the Government has adopted so far - and here we're
thinking of the Isle of Wight's Track and Trace technology apps that were supposed to be the 'Hancock's half hour' solution to coronavirus until the vaccination jab arrives -
but which, in fact, were incompatible with both the major smartphone operating systems that were supposed to use them.
And we think about the 21st Century technology of computer- delivered algorithms that cleverly modified the decisions of human beings so as to downgrade students by imposing
what were claimed to be historic failings of the school itself, over whatever knowledge the students had achieved.
Both of these most modern of technological advances - forged from the white heat of the early 21 Century - have now been abandoned in the face of entirely justified public
dissatisfaction - as a result of such bad decisions having been taken by the Government).
7). The process for negotiating developer contributions to affordable housing and infrastructure is complex, protracted and unclear.
(Again, who does he think it was that set - and has changed on more than one occasion - the legal requirements that prescribe how this happens)?
8). There is not enough focus on design, and little incentive for high quality new homes and places.
(So who was it that nationalised planning policy?
Who was it that created, published and enforced the National Planning Policy Framework in March 2012 and has continually
revised this appalling 'loose-leaf' planning system?
Who was it that abolished more than 20 previous Planning Policy Statements and Guidance Notes when the NPPF came into being?
Who was it that revised and updated that same NPPF as recently as February 2019?
Could it have been the same Department that Mr Jenrick now runs? You bet it is!)
9). It simply does not lead to enough homes being built.
Here we come to the heart of the arguments he advances.
We believe this new plan is really about money - which is exactly what we would expect from someone with a background in corporate law and treasury.
It's not even about housing - and, despite what it says, it's certainly not about planning.
If it were about local planning it would be about planning for matters much wider in scope than the narrow housing focus set out in this plan.
It would be about integrated planning for social infrastructure like schools and medical services, transport planning, industrial and employment planning, planning for
sport, recreation and health and many other aspects.
But - whilst it pays lip-service to social infrastructure - it's focus is almost exclusively on housebuilding.
So we think it's really about the economy, not about planning.
And what Mr Jenrick promises is yet more 'anti-planning' in the style of Nick Boles MP, who (as we reported in 2013's 'Local Plan Update')
"Do you believe that planning works? - that clever people sitting in a room can plan how people's communities should develop? Or do you believe that it can't work? I believe
that it can't work. David Cameron believes it can't work. Nick Clegg believes it can't work.
'Chaotic' therefore, in our vocabulary, is a good thing.
Chaotic is what our cities are when we see how people live, when we see where restaurants spring up, where they close down, where people move to.
Can you predict any of that?
Would you like to live in a world where you could predict any of that?
I certainly wouldn't"
Thankfully, he only lasted a year or two in that job, but now we seem to have another load of Boles being delivered by Mr Boles Mk.2
WHAT THE NEW ANTI-PLANNING MINSTER WANTS
Well, the headline and thrust of his proposals are, like Nick Boles', intended to introduce chaos into planning.
There's a really clear quote about this in the Prime Minister's forward to the White Paper. It says:
'Thanks to our planning system, we have nowhere near enough homes in the right places. People cannot afford to move to where their talents can be matched with opportunity.
Businesses cannot afford to grow and create jobs. The whole thing is beginning to crumble and the time has come to do what too many have for too long lacked the courage to do –
tear it down and start again.
That is what this paper proposes.'
The Government wants to destroy the present system (which they designed and legislated for) and remake it from the ground up.
The fundamental change is that Mr. Jenrick wants to classify land into just three categories: Land for Growth; Land for Renewal; and Land for Protection
Land for Growth
He proposes that future Local Plans will identify geographic areas that are suitable for what he terms 'substantial development', and where outline approval for development
would be automatic for all forms of development that are yet to be defined in (as yet unspecified) categories of development.
It sounds to us like this is going to be a no-ifs-no-buts approach. Designate the land for 'Growth' and outline planning permission will be automatic. No chance for local
people to even influence that decision. The Computer will say 'Yes' to all outline permission applications for approved types of housing.
Land for Renewal
These will be areas designated suitable for what the White Paper calls 'some development'. The example given in the White Paper is 'gentle densification.'
That, of course, as our readers will pick up, sounds very much like a euphemism heading in the same direction of the discredited 'stack-a-pleb' building of the 1960s and
The addition of the word 'gentle' as a prefix only shows that we really need to be afraid.
Those two words perfectly illustrate the wolf hiding in the sheep's clothing.
Increasing the density - either by squashing more houses into any given area, or by going up three, four and maybe five storeys or more, does nothing for humanity.
And again, although not explicitly stated in the White Paper, there is an implied element of automation applied to land that is designated for 'Renewal'.
Historically, areas for housing renewals have been associated with slum clearance - development for the betterment of humanity.
But Mr Jenrick's sort of renewal is in danger of re-creating what will become the slums of the future.
It also fails to understand that people want more space, not less.
Just ask any Estate Agent which properties are hot at the moment. They are in the suburbs and have bigger gardens.
And if you don't believe Estate Agents, just look at the popularity of programmes like 'Escape to the Country' on television.
The 'Renewal' heading in the White Paper is all about changing what exists into something that reduces the space available to each person within an area.
It's about 'making
the assets sweat', - a term familiar to corporate business raiders, and it's entirely the wrong direction.
Land for Protection
Given that the White paper says this designation covers....
'Protected areas where – as the name suggests – development is restricted'
....the clear implication is that in the other
two categories, development is not to be restricted doesn't it?
SO WHAT TO MAKE OF THIS SO FAR?
Well, what we think we can take from what's being said is that in Growth areas, developers will get something like free reign to build.
In Renewal areas it sounds to us like they will be able to convert all sorts of commercial and industrial and existing housing property to renewed housing that pushes more
people into each hectare.
And only in Protected areas will development be prevented or limited.
And the tone of the White paper suggests to us that even 'Protected' land will only be the most highly protected areas, like designated Green Belt land and Areas of
Outstanding Natural Beauty and that sort of thing.
Furthermore, given the example of the way the Government treated the fracking industry (when it was trying to encourage it), it could well be that even land within our
treasured National Parks will not be allowed to be classified as 'Protected Land'
But for us, the greatest sadness in all of this is the lack of value that is being placed on humanity.
We recently started to read a thought-provoking book called 'Human Scale.' It takes our physical attributes and our perceptions as the basis for creating an environment in which
we feel 'naturally' at home.
As a simple example, it cites the typical human field of vision as being about 50 degrees. It is no coincidence that this is also the field of vision that standard camera
lenses were designed to capture and print onto a photograph. They represented our natural view of the world.
Translating this into architecture, the book illustrates that the visual width for a property or block of properties should be the same field of human vision, and thus, to
retain the human scale with which we naturally identify, the width of a detached property (or a block of properties) needs to be related to the distance from which it is being
viewed. Wider properties need to be further away, set further back from the pavement, to remain able to be seen in their entirety within a human scale affording a 50 degree visibility splay.
So we can't see the "pile 'em high and sell 'em cheap" philosophy (that so often arises from an economic benefit approach to development) is going to be any more popular
with ordinary people than, say the modification of exam marks by algorithmic intervention.
WHAT ELSE DOES IT SAY?
So far, we've looked at the 'wolf' part of the proposals.
The textual 'sheep's clothing' in which the wolf is hiding offers three founding pillars
- Pillar 1 - Planning For Development
- Pillar 2 - Planning For Beautiful And Sustainable Places
- Pillar 3 - Planning For Infrastructure And Connected Places
We're going to look at each in turn and summarise some of their main points. They are not in the order set out in the white paper, we're paraphrased and re-ordered them to
set out what we think their impact will be on Fylde, and we've provided our own commentary on some (in italics).
Pillar 1 - Planning For Development
1.1 Individual Councils will, in future, be told how many houses they have to build in their areas. Target numbers for house building will be set nationally, and individual
councils will have to identify and allocate enough land suitable for housing to meet the target in their new-style Local Plans.
This is a retrograde step, but it's not new.
Having housing numbers imposed on you has happened at least twice before to our knowledge.
The old Lancashire [County Council] Structure Plan of 1986 allocated housing numbers for each borough for the ensuing 10 years.
And the appallingly conceived 'North West Regional Spatial Strategy (published in 2008 and supposed to run until 2021 but revoked by Eric Pickles in 2013) also prescribed how many houses Fylde had to build.
Thankfully, the whole concept of regional planning was abolished by Saint Eric Pickles during his second and third days in the job as Minister for Communities and Local
Government back in 2010 - see 'Eric Pickles for King' .
It took a bit longer for him to change the legislation that introduced it, but how we wish he was still in charge of Local Government at national level.
Being told how many additional houses your borough will have to take makes a complete mockery of local democracy - especially when, as in Fylde's case the majority of those
houses are for people who want to move to live here. (Within Fylde, more people die each year than are born, so to keep pace with Fylde's own population need, we should
probably demolish something like 60 houses a year)
1.2 The policies within which all future development will managed, will be set at a national level in the NPPF.
In practical terms, we think this will stop council having their own general planning policies, and again speaking practically, this will probably limit a Council's
scope to matters like just choosing the designs of housing for their area.
1.3 The publication and adoption of these new-style Local Plans is to be completed within 30 months, and all plans will need to be reviewed every 5 years. Furthermore, the
new style Local Plans will be subject to a single statutory "sustainable development" test
Any 'sustainability test' is, of course, entirely subjective, and thus puts the decision as to what is
sustainable or not into the hands of the Government through the NPPF). This will replace the current requirement for local plans to be assessed to see if they are 'sound'.
This will involve yet more centralisation of policy and control of local planning by the Government.
1.4 Improving the efficiency of the planning application process through the use of technology and enforcing statutory determination deadlines of 8 weeks and 13 weeks.
Planning application fees will have to be returned if a decision is not made within the statutory timetable
We think this will be simply unworkable - not least because, despite what Government believes, it is not uncommon to find developers not being able to provide the
information that is needed at this sort of speed. For example, although this example is not related to housing, when Cuadrilla wanted to show the impact of their proposed
development on the local highway network, they needed to undertake studies that took place over many months (because traffic was different in and out of the holiday season, and
between winter and summer, especially for, say, recreational cycling and equestrian road users).
It will be interesting to see if the detail attached to this proposal would, for example, also include 'sauce for the gander' and maybe double the planning fees if the developer
does not provide the information that enables the local council to take an informed decision within the timescale set by the Government.
1.5 Digitalisation and standardisation of Local Plans, using mapping technology and standard templates.
Digitisation is largely in place at Fylde already. But that doesn't (and indeed it shouldn't - even in principle) avoid the present requirement to publish
printed notices in the locality of the development to alert local people to the fact that a development change to something in the locality is being proposed.
And the idea of standardising Local Plans is fundamentally a bad idea. The point being missed with this proposal is that these are LOCAL plans. They are (or at least should
be) designed to meet the needs of the local community, not the tastes or desires of Government, not even for the way they are set out. For example some places (Resorts) will
want to give tourism greater prominence in their local plan, whilst other specialised areas (e.g. University Towns) will want their local plan to show greater priority to the
needs of students.
These ideas and this direction of standardisation emanates from an 'inhuman' and technocratic brain - one that would also replace doctors and teachers with robots.
Wrong!.... Wrong!..... Wrong!.... (to paraphrase a better known and late former Conservative of note)
1.6 A standard method for establishing housing requirement figures which ensures enough land is released in the areas where affordability is worst.
The housing requirement will factor in land constraints and opportunities to more effectively use land, through densification where appropriate, to ensure that the
land is identified in the most appropriate areas and housing targets are met.
We welcome a fresh look being taken at the way housing need is derived. The present system is not fit for purpose in so many ways.
It is literally unbelievable. The pages of
counterbalance are littered with examples of estimated housing 'need' that was based on assumptions directed by political expediency, and modified by politically
institutionalised prejudice. We believe (and have shown many times) that Fylde's real housing need is only around one tenth of what Fylde incorrectly believed the experts had
Several recent examples that illustrate the stupidity of the present system were addressed in the Housing Need section of our article 'Local Plan's Progress'
But perhaps the most glaring example of utter madness in calculating the need for housing we can cite concerns housing need in relation to affordable housing - where the
Government chooses to discount those in private rented housing (which IS affordable to them because the most of the rent is being paid by housing benefit).
This comes about because Government decided that people in receipt of housing benefit are still also in need of 'affordable housing' (even when Government is paying most of
their rent already). Yes, really. (See 9.35 of the 2014 Fylde Coast Strategic Housing Market Assessment).
So hopefully, Mr Jenrick will have a look at that too.
1.7 Neighbourhood plans will be retained but their scope and remit is likely to change
In theory this is to be welcomed, but when you get into the detail of the Government's proposals and see what they're thinking of doing i.e. when they say....
'Therefore, we think Neighbourhood Plans should be retained in the reformed planning system, but we will want to consider whether their content should become more focused to
reflect our proposals for Local Plans, as well.'
You get the impression that government wants to regulate and specify the minutia of local planning down to the neighbourhood and street level as well. It's utter madness for
a Government to be working at that level.
1.8 No changes to the existing policy for protecting the Green Belt are proposed
That sounds OK, but given the direction elsewhere in these proposals we think it needs a watchful eye being kept on this statement.
1.9 The duty to cooperate is proposed to be removed.
This is about the only statement to which we feel able to give unqualified support. The idea - introduced in the National Planning Policy Framework - that each council has a
'duty' to absorb new housing if its neighbouring boroughs say they can't provide their own space, was always a complete nonsense in practice, and wrong in principle.
When rapacious councils rape their green spaces for overtly commercial reasons - especially when they have almost no green space left at all - and here we might even be
thinking about Blackpool, it is entirely wrong to suggest that they should have a 'right' to start to do the same thing with land in neighbouring boroughs that have been more
careful with land management. And to suggest that those other boroughs have a statutory duty to cooperate in this regard is entirely wrong.
(If fact, it was actually Wyre BC who had the cheek to try to enforce a 'duty to co-operate' on Fylde (to require Fylde to take some of Wyre's supposed housing needs) and, as
far as we know, that row is still rumbling on in the background. Hopefully this announcement will kill it off).
Pillar 2 - Planning For Beautiful And Sustainable Places
The trouble with this heading is that both 'beautiful' and 'sustainable' are words that ultimately are in the eye of the beholder. They have no objective definition and are,
in reality, simply a method of giving control over design and layout to the Government.
That's because they will undoubtedly set - and interpret - the parameters by which beauty and sustainability are to be judged - probably in a revision to the National
Planning Policy Framework. So once again, it's "heads I win tails you lose" - and it puts Government in a position of micro-managing what should be local planning.
Readers might like to bear this thought in mind as they skim through the following proposal headlines that have been advanced in the White Paper....
- To make design expectations more visual and predictable, we will expect design guidance and codes to be prepared locally with community involvement, and ensure that codes
are more binding on decisions about development.
- To support the transition to a planning system which is more visual and rooted in local preferences and character, we will set up a body to support the delivery of provably
locally-popular design codes, and propose that each authority should have a chief officer for design and place-making.
(Dear God in heaven, this sounds as though they will even want to appoint the staff to design new housing in the not too distant future).
- To further embed national leadership on delivering better places, we will consider how Homes England’s strategic objectives can give greater emphasis to delivering beautiful
(Again we see the idea of national control of local planning).
- We intend to introduce a fast-track for beauty through changes to national policy and legislation, to incentivise and accelerate high quality development which reflects
local character and preferences.
- We intend to amend the National Planning Policy Framework to ensure that it targets those areas where a reformed planning system can most effectively play a role in
mitigating and adapting to climate change and maximising environmental benefits.
- We intend to design a quicker, simpler framework for assessing environmental impacts and enhancement opportunities, that speeds up the process while protecting and enhancing
the most valuable and important habitats and species in England.
(We're not sure if Weasels are a protected species, but these weasel words probably carry a subtext that will afford environmental protection less widely than at present (i.e.
by only protecting the MOST valuable habitats)).
- Conserving and enhancing our historic buildings and areas in the 21st century.
(Again we see here that change is coming. And if the angle here is consistent with the direction being set elsewhere, we need to be afraid, as illustrated by the White
paper's subsequent quotes on this topic, including....
"We also want to ensure our historic buildings play a central part in the renewal of our cities, towns and villages. Many will need to be adapted to changing uses and to
respond to new challenges, such as mitigating and adapting to climate change."
"We particularly want to see more historical buildings have the right energy efficiency measures to support our zero carbon objectives."
Readers will see the direction being set is not about protection and conservation. The policy is to be driven by other considerations.
And again the text of this heading talks about concentrating on conserving and enhancing the most important historic building. This introduces the prospect of not bothering
overmuch about those that are not the MOST important.)
Probably the worst part of the text here is the quote:
"This includes exploring whether suitably experienced architectural specialists can have earned autonomy from routine listed building consents."
By implication, this looks to be heading down the path of removing the present requirement by which changes to listed buildings must first have approval from an independent
body, and again it appears to represent a weakening of the protection that is currently afforded.
Pillar 3 - Planning For Infrastructure And Connected Places
This section is really about who pays for the non-housing areas within developments - the roads the schools, the parks, the medical facilities and so on.
We remember the time when these were all funded out of local or national taxation. It was the Government or the local Council that paid for these from the taxes they
collected from us. That, and getting the bins emptied was why we paid our taxes.
But nowadays that's all changed, and developers themselves are required to fund most of the social infrastructure. For those who want to know more, we illustrated this in
the 'buying' section of our article ' The Local Plans Progress'.
But this White Paper heralds yet another change, one that the Government describes as being 'central to our vision for renewal of the planning system.'
And to do this, they are going to replace both of the existing parallel regimes for 'securing developer contributions' (as they are euphemistically called) with a new,
charge known as the consolidated ‘Infrastructure Levy’ i.e.
'The Community Infrastructure Levy should be reformed to be charged as a fixed proportion of the development value above a threshold, with a mandatory
nationally-set rate or rates and the current system of planning obligations abolished'.
The idea is that this would be based upon a flat-rate, valued-based charge, set nationally, at either a single rate, or at area-specific rates.
And here we go again. The sum payable would be set by the Government.
They want to take control of everything.
And there's more. They want to extend the scope of the proposed Infrastructure Levy 'to capture changes of use through permitted development rights'
That's a new move. We think it means that the fairly recently granted extension of a householder's right to make changes to their property (without needing Planning
Permission first) could fall within the new Infrastructure Levy for things like office to residential conversions and some other matters.
It would thus require a payment toward
the community infrastructure fund from a householder exercising their 'permitted development right' (yes really!) .
The new Infrastructure Levy is also going to fund the building of affordable housing - or so they say.
We'll believe it if we see it.
This is all fine and dandy in the short term, but what's not being said is that the inevitable consequence will be that infrastructure payments that developers have to make
will come from somewhere, and without much doubt, that's going to be generated by increasing the price of the houses they sell.
Which will, in turn, make less of them 'affordable'.
The logical conclusion is that the plan to get more cash from developers will make it harder for people to buy a new home.
So the law of unintended consequences (or improperly thought through logic) comes into play here as well.
There's more change on the way too, especially about the funding of the new arrangements - and each of these would merit a counterbalance article of their own.
So there's more in the White Paper for those that want it, but the best we can hope for is that most of Mr Jenrick's ideas - like those of his predecessor Mr Boles - are
abandoned fairly quickly, and he too passes into ignominy.
SO WHAT ABOUT THE OTHER CONSULTATION?
Well, the main consultation 'Planning for the Future' sets out plans to undertake a fundamental reform of the planning system and explains that this would be accompanied by
This second consultation is called 'Changes To The Current Planning System.' and it sets out those short term measures.
It is less 'glossy' and more technical, and sets out to improve the current system.
The four main proposals are:
- Changes to the standard method for assessing local housing need, which brings with it proposals that will affect reforms to the supply of building land.
- Plans to provide what it calls 'First Homes' - houses to be sold at a discount to market price for first time buyers, including key workers, (that's an interesting new
category people in relation to planning policy) which - they say - in the short term, is going to be funded by developer contributions.
- Raising the threshold at which developers have to contribute to affordable housing, (probably to 40 or 50 units before the requirement it kicks in). This is a supposedly a temporary
measure to support small builders out of Covid-19;
- Extending the current 'Permission in Principle' (we think this is what most people call outline permission) to major development. That's so landowners and developers will
have a fast route to get a decision in principle on plans to build houses before they need to work up detailed plans.
There's an awful lot of new stuff in this second consultation - probably enough for 10 or more counterbalance articles, and no doubt if and when it goes ahead we will be
making further comment.
This second consultation is not exactly the nuts and bolts of what Government plans to do, but it seems to be things that the Government believes it can do now, without
changing the planning laws.
Maybe they can, but we wouldn't be surprised to find some instances where their new plans are tested in court.
Readers can follow this link to download the full version of 'Changes
To The Current Planning System'
OUR TAKE ON THE PROPOSALS
If you've read through to this point dear reader, you won't be surprised our conclusions are not going to be very supportive.
We thought it was wrong in principle when Mr Boles embarked on a path that 'nationalised' what should be locally made decisions on planning.
We don't at all see it as the Government's role to create a one-size-fits-all planning system that has details down to street level.
We abhor the trend to unification and standardisation of planning policy across the country.
Places are (and should be) distinct and different according to the preferences of local people. There are some are places we would like to live, others we would not. That
isn't wrong, its simply a recognition that people have differing tastes and views, and we believe they have a right to express those views by choosing to remain within council
areas which chime with the way that council regulates what their area looks and feels like, (or by moving if it doesn't).
So in our view, local planning should be left to local councils - who can be supported - or removed - by local people.
We also deplore the disruption that this latest change seeks to bring.
Since the 1980s, planning reforms have been more or less continual. Often it seems to us this has been for party political (or at least politically ideological) ends. It
probably started with Margaret Thatcher's gerrymandering planning policies that sold off subsidised housing and created the shortfall in affordable houses for those on lower
incomes we now see reflected all around us.
And this process of change in planning policy has accelerated with each passing year.
But the inescapable fact is that development planning needs a stable and consistent base of rules - because it addresses very long periods.
Built development lasts for hundreds of years, - so there must
be a consistent basis for its planning.
The 'loose leaf' planning system introduced by the National Planning Policy Framework has been a disaster.
It has been manna from heaven for expensive Planning Law firms and Consultancies which are now an essential part of everyday development planning - as appeals and legal tests
of policy become the norm.
It has spawned whole industries around the establishment of housing need, environmental impact assessments, and around how developers can avoid providing 'affordable
housing' by showing it would make their development 'unviable'.
But the answer to these problems is not more central control. That's what caused it in the first place.
It is less centralised control.
And the present plans - nominally from Mr Jenrick - will simply drag us deeper into that mire.
They will create mayhem in every planning department across England.
There will be a HUGE cost to local taxpayers as the relatively new local plans (some Councils have not even completed their first 'new local plan' from the last legislation
change yet!) are to be abandoned for pastures new (in more ways than one).
Fylde is currently in the middle of consulting local residents on an update to its own (nominally, but in practice not really) 'local' plan.
It might as well abandon that consultation and update, and save some money.
We think Fylde has already spent more than £2 million to produce its local plan.
That would represent a cost of around £30 for every resident.
Now it will probably have to ditch that and start again on a new one if these proposal come into being.
They will undoubtedly make houses more, not less, expensive, and they will further distance ordinary people from their ability to control what happens around them.
We also think that one - probably unintended - side effect of all of this will be that MPs - who traditionally at least - try to avoid involvement in what are often
contentious local planning matters - will find themselves coming under much more scrutiny and pressure from frustrated constituents as they come to realise that it is the
Government, and not their local council, that is the root cause of their dissatisfaction when new houses and 'densification' appears on their doorstep.
And that's even if some of the new properties do have gable ends painted in peacock blue or 1940's pastel shades.
Readers who want chapter and verse on the detail can see for themselves by following this link to download the 88 pages of the White Paper 'Planning
for the Future' to study, and can also follow this link to download the accompanying technical paper 'Changes
To The Current Planning System'
If this White Paper is enacted, and if the other paper is implemented (without legislative change), we think the present Government looks set to alienate great swathes of
Middle England as areas of new housing spring up around them, and properties in existing neighbourhoods have extra homes squeezed in without local people being able to contest
these decisions or to un-elect local councils that are powerless to resist the Government diktat.
And it's that same electorate who are mostly traditional Conservative voters.
Chaos is not what's needed in the planning system.
Stability is what's needed.
Dated: 28 August 2020