White Paper on proposed changes to the planning system

The White paper put out for consultation proposes a radical change to the planning system. That consultation ends on the 29 October.

First you can read the White Paper by clicking here

However a summary of the 84 page pdf file may help.

This is the HM Government version:

The current planning system is complicated, favours larger developers and often means that much needed new homes are delayed.

We’re proposing a new system which is easier for the public to access, transforms the way communi-ties are shaped and builds the homes this country needs.

The changes will mean more good quality, attractive and affordable homes can be built faster – and more young families can have the key to their own home.

In the new system local areas will develop plans for land to be designated into three categories

:• Growth areaswill back development, with development approved at the same time plans are pre-pared, meaning new homes, schools, shops and business space can be built quickly and efficiently, as long as local design standards are met.

• Renewal areas will be suitable for some development where it is high-quality in a way which meets design and other prior approval requirements the process will be quicker. If not, develop-ment will need planning approval in the usual way.

• Protected areas will be just that development will be restricted to carry on protecting our treas-ured heritage like Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and National Parks.

Communities will be consulted from the beginning of the planning process and help shape the design codes to guide what development can happen in their local area.

The reforms will mean:

Much-needed homes will be built quicker by ensuring local housing plans are developed and agreed in 30 months down from the current 7 years it often takes.

Every area to have a local plan in place currently only 50% of local areas has an up-to-date plan to build more homes.

The planning system will be made more accessible, by harnessing the latest technology through online maps and data.

• Valued green spaces will be protected for future generations by allowing for more building on brownfield land and all new streets to be tree lined.

The planning process to be overhauled and replaced with a clearer, rules based system. Currently around a third of planning cases that go to appeal are overturned.

A new simpler national levy to replace the current system of developer contributions which often causes delay this will provide more certainty about the number of affordable homes being built.

• The creation of a fast-track system for beautiful buildings and establishing local design guidance for developers to build and preserve beautiful communities.

• All new homes to be ‘zero carbon ready’, with no new homes delivered under the new system needed to be retrofitted as we achieve our commitment to net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

A Response:

As part of the White Paper a series of questions is put to the reader with a request to respond. These can be posted or email to in the following ways:

  1. Go to the website https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/planning-for-the-future

2. Alternatively you can email your response to the questions in this consultation to planningforthefuture@communities.gov.uk.

3. If you are responding in writing, please make it clear which questions you are responding to. Written responses should be sent to:

Planning for the Future Consultation,

Planning Directorate, 3rd Floor, Fry Building, 2 Marsham Street, London SW1P 4DF.

My Response:

1. What three words do you associate most with the planning

system in England?

!

2(a). Do you get involved with planning decisions in your local area?

[Yes / No]

Yes

2(b). If no, why not?

[Don’t know how to / It takes too long / It’s too complicated /

I don’t care / Other – please specify]

3. Our proposals will make it much easier to access plans and contribute

your views to planning decisions. How would you like to find out about

plans and planning proposals in the future?

[Social media / Online news / Newspaper / By post /

Other – please specify]

Planning applications and all relevant details should appear on the public planning authorities website. It is inappropriate to outsource such information to private company facilities whose continuity is uncertain, whose objectives are not aligned with public service and which are NOT inclusive. Surprisingly 33% of the population are not on any form of social media and 4% do not have access to the internet (ONS 2020).

Email could be offered as an additional service alongside the continued use of the postal service to ensure complete inclusion within a neighbourhood.

Much disparagement is made of notices on lampposts, etc. Their function is to alter other interest parties in what is happening in their area, many people are interested in developments that do not directly impact on them. They have a broad concern for the town\village where they live. How will they be informed?

Build on firm foundations rather than scrap everything unless it can distributed over the internet.

4. What are your top three priorities for planning in your local area?

[Building homes for young people / building homes for the homeless /

Protection of green spaces / The environment, biodiversity and action

on climate change / Increasing the affordability of housing / The design

of new homes and places / Supporting the high street / Supporting the

local economy / More or better local infrastructure / Protection of

existing heritage buildings or areas / Other – please specify]

1. Increasing the affordability of housing

2. More and better local infrastructure

3.Protection of green spaces, biodiversity and the environment

5. Do you agree that Local Plans should be simplified in line with our proposals?

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

No

They do not make sense in our area or, I would suggest in most rural areas. These would be designated as either ‘renewal’ where ‘small sites within or on the edge of villages’ would be developed – on what basis? Or as ‘protected’.The only difference between a renewal zone and a growth zone appears to be scale. Does that mean any plot that comes available could be built on as long as the development criteria in the Local Plan are met? Local communities would have no ability to either plan where sites should and should not be developed only their scale and design.

In Bunbury we are surrounded by open countryside that currently is protected from development. Where development does take place is identified and agreed through consultation with the local Planning Authority. (Cheshire East). Under these proposals no such ‘protection’ is available to ‘open countryside and farmland. Only in ‘Protected Zones’ is there any possibility of building into a local plan the option of saying NO to development. As the white paper states “There would be a statutory presumption in favour of development being granted for the uses specified as being suitable in each area”. The ‘uses’ are of course defined tin the new ‘Use Classes’ none of which cover open spaces or open land. They are Use Classes of buildings (commercial or Public). The Local Plan can only specify use in terms of those ‘Use Classes’ and cannot protect any land from development outside of Protected Zones.

The White paper does mention in the definition of ‘Protected Zones’ “ areas of open countryside outside of land in Growth or renewal area.” Who makes that decision? What consultation will be held on open countryside question? These are critical questions in our village that the Local Plan would not be able to answer. If the Local Plan, with local consultation, can decide to place open countryside into the protected zone with much reduced development objectives then villages may be protected from cherry-picking developers and productive farmland can be retained.

Where is the parallel discussion about the protection of farmland from development and the need to maintain our own food supply? Not a word.

Who gets to make these ‘zonal’ decision? Yes the Local Authority in the first place in consultation with the public (Stage 1) but the HM Inspector can simply override that decision (Stage 4).

The suggested Alternative of combining Growth and Renewal Zones is much worse. Such an approach is highly threatening to the retention of village character.

The other suggested Alternative of limiting automatic permission to land in the Growth Zone while retaining the power of the local authority to identify where and what permitted development may take place in the renewal zone, is acceptable. As long as it retain the current feature to allow citizen representation as part of that decision-making process.

6. Do you agree with our proposals for streamlining the development

management content of Local Plans, and setting out general development management policies nationally?

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

I agree that repeating Government policy in Local Plans is a waste of time

But Local Authorities should retain a level of flexibility to set development management policies that do not duplicate NPPF policies.

7(a). Do you agree with our proposals to replace existing legal and policy tests

for Local Plans with a consolidated test of “sustainable development”,

which would include consideration of environmental impact?

No.

The inadequate detail provided makes it very unwise to go down this path. The UK is the most environmentally impoverished country in Europe. (On target? Five environmental challenges for 2020 and beyond – HoC report 2020)

‘Sustainable Development’ can become meaningless without a clear definition that has teeth. Currently it is little more than a ‘catch phrase’ trotted out to justify yet another development in ‘walking distance’ of ‘facilities’ (a shop and bus stop).

7(b). How could strategic, cross-boundary issues be best planned for in the

absence of a formal Duty to Cooperate?

Restore the duty to co-operate.

8(a). Do you agree that a standard method for establishing housing

requirements (that takes into account constraints) should be introduced?

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

No

1. The problem in our village is delivery and provision of affordable housing. Only 50% of the houses with permission to build in the last 5 years have been built. Make it hurt to cling on to land that has been granted permission and not used. This is the cause of house shortages. Developers do not want to build affordable houses in our village to meet real need. Their objective is maintain the profitability of the development. That means NOT building if it impacts on market prices.

More details needed on the Housing Delivery Test to make any judgement. Why? Delivery is OUR problem, in the South you may have other issues.

2. Centralisation of housing need calculation into one algorithm is inappropriate. Needs vary across the country and this approach is just unnecessary in Cheshire. We have land supply.

3. Preferred option is:

It would be possible to leave the calculation of how much land to include in each category to local decision, but with a clear stipulation in policy that this should be sufficient to address the development needs of each area (so far as possible subject to recognised constraints), taking into account market signals indicating the degree to which existing needs are not being met’

8(b). Do you agree that affordability and the extent of existing urban areas are

appropriate indicators of the quantity of development to be accommodated?

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

No

‘Affordability’ is yet another weasel word in the lexicography of development. It just means small houses that get smaller as the local house prices rise. We have ended up with some of the smallest houses in Europe. In Bunbury we have ‘affordable’ houses that have smaller ground floor footprint than the garage space on adjacent ‘market’ properties.

‘Urban area’ as a criteria for permitting more development? Big gets bigger? I’ll leave that to the residents of towns to explain.

9(a). Do you agree that there should be automatic outline permission

for areas for substantial development (Growth areas) with faster

routes for detailed consent?

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

A cautious yes.

I want Growth areas clearly defined with a focus on brownfield sites and protection of green spaces and avoidance of massive ‘monochrome’ sterile environments.

9(b). Do you agree with our proposals above for the consent arrangements for Renewal and Protected areas?

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

Yes

But only if ‘Open Countryside’ is included in the Protected Areas.

9(c). Do you think there is a case for allowing new settlements to be brought forward under the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects regime?

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

Yes
But these are the exception not the norm, provided legislation is clear that they can’t be used to override local planning decisions or to build in areas of open countryside.

10. Do you agree with our proposals to make decision-making faster

and more certain?

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

Appropriate speed is good. But it is not the most important requirement of a planning process. An open democratic process is more likely to yield a good decision. It is the quality of the decisions that emerge that is the criteria to judge the system. Speed is easy if you ignore everybody. Authoritarian governments claim speed is a virtue of their approach but end up with corruption and terrible decisions.

It is not the local authorities that are to blame to the degree the White Paper suggest. From my experience it is just as frequently developers errors, changes of mind, lack of experience, etc. that slows and delays the system.

11. Do you agree with our proposals for accessible, web-based Local Plans?

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

Yes

Cheshire East has offered web based access to all planning information for sometime. You seem to suggest that this is a rare experience. Really? No recognition of what Local Authorities have already invested in their systems despite dramatic reductions in their budgets.

I have never heard of ‘PropTech’ before and as you don’t really explain what it is or its putative role I cannot comment. However experience of government involvement with IT firms and projects is not encouraging. Caution should be your watchword and my advice is to stay away from things you don’t really understand.

12. Do you agree with our proposals for a 30 month statutory timescale

for the production of Local Plans?

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

No

Again you are blaming the Local Authorities for the delays in the system. It is true the Local Plan takes about 7 years to complete but that is entirely due to to the heavy burden placed on the LA in terms of the work needed to meet all the criteria set by the Government policies, unclear methods of housing need, and meeting the demand of HM Inspectors. In your attempt to sort this mess out you are also throwing out the part of the process – making decisions on individual planning applications – out as well. It is that part of the process the citizen engages with as it represents his/her right to participate in decision-making that directly impacts her/his life.

Stage 1 represents the only stage at which citizens might get some say. Their expertise and motivation is often limited to the immediate area where they live. Will they engage with such broad based planning? In Bunbury the strongest engagement derives from residents impacted by the planning applications. Outside that ‘zone of impact’ other citizens do engage but at a less frequent level. This suggest that the particular rather than the general is what engages the citizen. And (s)he has only 6 months to engage and then his/her role has ended.

Stage 4 – It seems that the Inspector has too much power – “all at the inspector’s discretion”. This is likely to lead local resident’s losing faith in the system as the Inspector can simply choose not to listen to their concerns. The choice of inspector will therefore be key and this process needs to be defined. An inspector with political links or strong links to developers will lack credibility

This White paper represents an attempt to remove the citizens meaningful participation in planning decision-making just where it matters most.

13(a). Do you agree that Neighbourhood Plans should be retained

in the reformed planning system?

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

Yes
We have a Neighbourhood Plan in place that has served us well. We should make it clear that the Number 1 issue from residents is the number of houses being built followed by the housing mix. This section implies that NP’s will be limited to the design style which while a priority issue, is further down the list given below.. It is hard to reconcile the top down approach of this White Paper with the ability of a locality to influence how it is developed.

A NP that only addresses design style will be viewed as ineffective and no amount of digital tools will compensate for the disillusionment of 100 new homes being built on a greenfield site where we can only influence how they look. Clearly the government view NP’s as a mistake and the interference of citizens in the development of where they live is no-longer to be tolerated.

With our NP Bunbury has controlled the size of developments and their proximity to each other. Developers have respected the size constraint but with the support of inspectors attached and undermined the wishes of Bunbury citizens to avoid the formation of large conglomerations of new houses on the edge of the village. Active citizens were able to take their concerns to open planning meetings where with councillors and developers a democratic and open process was seen in action. That is real engagement

The White paper will strip away any pretence of serious involvement in local planning through the means of the creation of the NP – powerful motivating experience for the whole village -, automate consent on applications. Leaving the citizen devoid of democratic powers to influence anything but the choice of brick colours and style of roof.

If the White Paper seeks to engage the local population on a street by street basis then it will need to address the means by which the citizen can participate in decision about

  1. Housing numbers
  2. Housing mix
  3. Local infrastructure
  4. As well as Quality of Design

13(b). How can the neighbourhood planning process be developed to meet our objectives, such as in the use of digital tools and reflecting community preferences about design?

‘Digital tools’ is a vague term. We have websites with clickable maps, access to digitised plans and documents. Yes I am sure they can be enhanced. They do not however take the place of real democratic participation in making decisions. That is what engages citizens.

Of course citizens want to see what proposed developments might look like but more importantly the want a say in the number , distribution and type of those dwellings near them that directly affect their lifestyle.

14. Do you agree there should be a stronger emphasis on the build out of developments? And if so, what further measures would you support?

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

Yes
This really applies to larger developments but the principle of engaging a wide range of developers is one to be supported

15. What do you think about the design of new development that has

happened recently in your area?

[Not sure or indifferent / Beautiful and/or well-designed / Ugly and/

or poorly-designed / There hasn’t been any / Other – please specify]

Locally we have small (15 or fewer homes) developments, they are very specific to the actual developer but largely they have been accepted by the local community. The houses are unremarkable but perfectly adequate and inoffensive, utilising the space allocated as well as can be expected.

16. Sustainability is at the heart of our proposals. What is your priority

for sustainability in your area?

[Less reliance on cars / More green and open spaces / Energy

efficiency of new buildings / More trees / Other – please specify]

So what does ‘Sustainability’ mean? Apparently it could be ‘ more trees’ or ‘less reliance on cars’. Did I miss the definition? So once again we meet one of those weasel words that people use to get round having to specify real things. What do I think it means in a partical way in Bunbury:

A decent public bus service that offers a real alternative to cars. That means serall journeys everyday that would enable travel to local towns and back again to support workers and shoppers, as well as recreational users. Rural concern are ignored by the urban focussed writers of this paper.

Children should be able to walk or cycle to and from school an other facilities in the village, in safety. Adults should also feel safe and encouraged to walk and cycle as government papers have indicated is their goal That means suitable pavements and speed limits (20mph) on cars that are enforceable. No on street parking, cycling parking facilities

A serious move to enable rural areas dependant on carbon fuels (oil boilers are common in Bunbury as we have no gas pipe to the village) to move to sustainable energy sources.

The encouragement of home based working where possible and consideration given to ways of reducing developments that simply increase traffic through the village to the detriment of the environment (noise and air pollution).

‘Best in Class’ broadband provision and appropriate levels of accessible computer terminals in local cafes or village halls.

Within the residential zones around the centres of villages the emphasis must move away from the domination of vehicles to prioritise walking and cycling in clean air and quiet movement.

17. Do you agree with our proposals for improving the production and

use of design guides and codes?

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

Yes
In principle these codes are a good idea if the stimulate high standards. But as is common in the White Paper the focus is urban not rural. I propose that rural developments have a separate code. As mentioned previously most rural housing developments are small in size (less than 50 houses), we need cycle and walking routes within villages in order to access facilities such as GP surgeries, schools and shops. The code should therefore extend to linking a development with these facilities and not be limited to within the actual development itself.

18. Do you agree that we should establish a new body to support design coding and building better places, and that each authority should have a chief officer for design and place-making?

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

Not Sure

Another quango stacked with political appointees to be the government bidding? Would we end up with better design or ‘Poundsbury style’ and fake Costwold? Appointments should be made by appropriate bodies and not the Minister. Unrealistic? Yes probable but on can hope that politisationn of our world has its limits.

19. Do you agree with our proposal to consider how design

might be given greater emphasis in the strategic objectives

for Homes England?

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

Yes

But it need to reflect both the wide variety of vernacular styles across England and the need to blend new and traditional and develop new styles. Beautiful can be modern.

20. Do you agree with our proposals for implementing a fast-track

for beauty?

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

54 |

No

Automatic consent is not a good principle in a democratic society where the outcome impacts directly on peoples quality of life. What is the style that Cheshire would go for anyway? We have a considerable diversity. Victorian polychromatic brick work, sandstone lintels, slate roof tiles, stone walls, carved soffits etc. Different villages have different mixes dependent on their history e.g. Historic estates have particular styles.

From the White Paper this sentence stands out as one I can support: To enable further tailoring of these patterns to local character and preferences, we also propose that local planning authorities or neighbourhood planning groups would be able to use local orders to modify how the standard types apply in their areas, based on local evidence of what options are most popular with the wider public.

21. When new development happens in your area, what is your priority

for what comes with it?

[More affordable housing / More or better infrastructure (such as

transport, schools, health provision) / Design of new buildings /

More shops and/or employment space / Green space / Don’t know /

Other – please specify]

In Bunbury the housing needs are for 2/3/4 bed homes and not the 5/6 bed executive house that dominate the developments. Currently we cannot get housing needs met.

The affordable housing that is built gets ever smaller in an attempt to make them actually affordable. They still remain unattainable on a mean salary of 25k. I know you are concerned about this but political ideology dominates thinking.

Redefine affordable housing in a meaningful way:

Rentable or shared ownership housing through (Housing Associations)

Mixed Housing with a range of need appropriate sizes

Infrastructure requirements are a function of size and social progress. The issue needs to be dealt with in its own right independent of the mix or ‘affordability’ of the development.

The Tory government under Harold MacMillan managed 300,000 houses a year under the 1947 housing Act that you so readily condemn. They did it with a massive expansion of Local Authority building as well as private developers each focussed on what they saw as their priority. But you will not do that and why? Perhaps a discussion with the ghost of Margaret Thatcher will explain.

22(a). Should the Government replace the Community Infrastructure Levy and Section 106 planning obligations with a new consolidated Infrastructure Levy, which is charged as a fixed

proportion of development value above a set threshold?

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

No

Certainly the 106 Levy needs reform as it fails to deliver what communities want and they are too easily excluded from any benefit. However the proposed ‘reform’ is naive at best. As we have seen over the affordable housing debacle, developer will wriggle their way out of their obligations if at all possible. The number of affordable houses built has therefore fallen dramatically (CPRE 2019).

So no do not allow developers a way out of their obligations once agreed. Yes include the land value uplift as this will discourage ‘land banking’ but I remain concerned over that ‘threshold level’. Who sets that level? Where is the detail needed to make an informed judgement? So much here can be turned against the benefit of the community and used by the developer to avoid their social responsibility and enhance their profitability while claiming the opposite with evidence from cunning accounts that know the loopholes buried in the detail.

I also suspect the threshold would remove any levy to many rural communities from the small developments they may encourage.

22(b). Should the Infrastructure Levy rates be set nationally at a single

rate, set nationally at an area-specific rate, or set locally?

[Nationally at a single rate / Nationally at an area-specific rate / Locally]

Nationally at an area specific rate.

22(c). Should the Infrastructure Levy aim to capture the same amount of value overall, or more value, to support greater investment in infrastructure, affordable housing and local communities?

[Same amount overall / More value / Less value / Not sure.

Please provide supporting statement.]

More value

Evidence (see above) shows that the provision of ‘affordable.’ housing in rural areas has declined while profit (until the pandemic) have risen. Many developers also provide shoddy ‘little boxes’ and pay massive increases in ‘compensation’ to their CEO (Persimmon and others). So, yes we should expect more and make sure there are no loopholes or ‘tax breaks’ they can use to avoid them.

22(d). Should we allow local authorities to borrow against the

Infrastructure Levy, to support infrastructure delivery in their area?

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

No.
Councils should not be taking all the risk, it should be risk sharing with developers. The White paper proposes to collect on sale of the development, this favours the developer over the local community and the developer is taking no risk. I suggest that the infrastructure levy should be collected at a number of stages, i.e. on planning consent, during development and the end. You could incentivise developers to complete on schedule to avoid unnecessary delay.

23. Do you agree that the scope of the reformed Infrastructure Levy should capture changes of use through permitted development rights?

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

Yes

All should contribute and thereby lower the burden on all.

24(a). Do you agree that we should aim to secure at least the same amount of affordable housing under the Infrastructure Levy, and as much on-site affordable provision, as at present?

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

Not sure

As discussed above many developers are claiming they cannot deliver the affordable housing that was agreed at consent. Too often LA’s acquiesce in this to avoid the battle of accountants and lawyers with the resultant delays. This, as mentioned above, has resulted in a crash in the provision of ‘affordable’ and social housing especially in rural areas (CPRE survey 2019).

Seeking to maintain that situation is not want we want and one I am sure the White paper seeks to remove and return to the actually agreed provision at base.

However more affordable and social housing is an urgent matter in Bunbury and many other rural communities. The fail to provide adequate housing of this sort means local communities suffer a number of consequences. The forced dispersal of family generation, the inability to downsize in later life and the lack of accommodation for all the key workers who then have to live miles away and travel in causing additional traffic, pollution and expense.

24(b). Should affordable housing be secured as in-kind payment towards

the Infrastructure Levy, or as a ‘right to purchase’ at discounted

rates for local authorities?

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

No

Another loophole to attract cunning developers and their accountants.

Build Affordable house to a set standards and targets based on need surveys in each area.

24(c). If an in-kind delivery approach is taken, should we mitigate

against local authority overpayment risk?

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

Yes

Share the risk

24(d). If an in-kind delivery approach is taken, are there additional steps

that would need to be taken to support affordable housing quality?

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

Yes, yes, yes

We must have better standards in all housing but especially in social and affordable housing. The lack of proper enforceable standards is a disgrace and resulted in the smallest houses in Europe.

25. Should local authorities have fewer restrictions over how they spend

the Infrastructure Levy?

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

Not sure

Currently Bunbury does not directly benefit from the 106 Levy as Cheshire East takes the money and uses it on affordable housing and infrastructure. Moe push on infrastructure would benefit communities generally.

25(a). If yes, should an affordable housing ‘ring-fence’ be developed?

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

Yes

Critical to all rural communities.

26. Do you have any views on the potential impact of the proposals raised in this consultation on people with protected characteristics as defined in section 149 of the Equality Act 2010?

Community engagement is complex. Why you believe some sort of digital revolution is going to improve matters is the sort of lazy, cheap idea that people without real knowledge of community come up with. Direct personal involvement where opinions are sought and responded to in meetings exhibitions. Social media used by activist to engage might have some impact with some sections of society but not all.

About the Author

Peter Gorman ()

Now retired from teaching. Involved in supporting the Village Day Committee, Village websites and Secretary of the Bunbury Action Group.

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