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Planning Reforms: a great trailer, fingers crossed the film is as good

By Shaun Andrews, executive director at Nexus Planning

There have been wide and varied responses to the government’s proposed planning overhaul announced earlier this month. In the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’s (MHCLG) much-anticipated ‘Planning for the Future’ consultation, the proposals are pitched as “landmark reforms to speed up and modernise the planning system and get the country building”.

As a planning professional of 25 years plus and the executive director of a consultancy deeply embedded in the system, I feel the government's objective has to be welcomed. The current system is slow, bureaucratic and too often frustrated by political influence. We should always be open to the potential for more radical change, but only if this helps achieve better and more equitable outcomes.

The proposals have the potential to expedite the delivery of growth with some of the 'big' strategic decisions, notably agreeing the amount of growth at district level, being set by national government. This matter alone should significantly speed up the process and provide a clear framework for growth at the local level. However, as planners, we’re mindful that the 'devil is always in the detail'. Resourcing and funding the reformed system will continue to be the key challenge to better delivery.

In this blog, I delve into some of the areas outlined that are close to our hearts at Nexus Planning.

Residential and strategic land

As a matter of principle, the proposed front-loading of the planning process - with key issues relating to the allocation, delivery and design of strategic housing sites resolved as part of the Local Plan process and a streamlined process thereafter - must be welcomed. However, given the additional work involved in such a front-loaded process, there are questions on whether, in reality, Local Planning Authorities and The Planning Inspectorate will realistically be able to meet the identified 30-month timescale.

The commitment to the 300,000 homes per annum national requirement, and to the production of a revised ‘standard method’ to achieve it, is important, as is the intent that this is binding on each local authority. This approach avoids the need for a legal ‘duty to cooperate’ – a system which has never operated as intended in the absence of more strategic planning.

CILs and s106

The government is seeking to create a consolidated infrastructure levy and set a single rate or area-specific rates nationally. The government states this will address issues in the current system by ensuring the rate is charged on the final value of development, be levied at point of occupation, provide a value-based minimum threshold below which levy is not charged and provide greater certainty for developers and communities in respect of the likely charges. A reform of CIL and s106 is required but it will be important to ensure that developments at greater risk of being unviable through the imposition of high rates are not unfairly jeopardised through a nationally set levy. It is important that any such rate reflects local circumstances. Otherwise the reforms will have the opposite effect to that intended.

Retail & town centres

The focus of the consultation is clearly on housing delivery and speeding up development. It is exceptionally light in respect of the potential implications of proposed changes on retail and town centre development. We welcome the general objective to bring forward further residential development and other uses in and around town centres and to provide family housing close to amenities. Such development can help bring land back into active use and, critically, provide additional footfall to support existing businesses.

In terms of the future consideration of new proposals for main town centre uses, the mechanism for identifying the scope of ‘specified appropriate uses’ will be all important in ensuring that the right types of development are brought forward in the right location. Whilst the government seeks to simplify the plan-making process (and reduce the volume of evidence-based documents), we envisage a continued need for the local planning authority and interested parties to carefully consider the scope for additional commercial development with reference to baseline data. This is important to ensure that our town centres accommodate a range of facilities and have the potential to support linked-trips, thereby helping to provide for their resilience in light of current significant pressures.

Climate and Health Resilience

The planning reforms matter. There's a lot on the line. Climate and natural diversity. Health. Social justice. Change is only ever worthwhile if it results in better outcomes. So, before we again delve deeply into the ever-complex machinery of the system, let’s not forget the essential purpose of planning.

Encouragingly, this consultation talks about putting climate and health resilience at the forefront. Planning and health have historically been very close siblings but of recent times they have grown apart. This is an opportunity to put health (climate and human) back as a central purpose (perhaps the central purpose) for planning.  

The government says that it wants the reformed system to play a proactive role in promoting environmental recovery and long-term sustainability. Those with climate and health resilience at the forefront of their minds will be hoping that the revised NPPF, due in the autumn, delivers on what is needed.


Shaun Andrews

Shaun has a wealth of experience spanning approximately 25 years of advising both private and public sector clients. He was previously Head of Strategic Development at GL Hearn, Head of Planning and Sustainability at Cushman & Wakefield, and Head of London Planning at Donaldsons/DTZ.  His expertise covers the formulation of masterplans and supporting the delivery of major complex developments. Whilst spending most of his career in the private sector, Shaun recently spent 6 months seconded to the Defence Infrastructure Organisation where he was interim head of estates.

A key specialism of Shaun’s is town and city centre regeneration and supporting the delivery of major mixed- use projects. He has advised both the public and private sector on the formulation of masterplans and strategies including their translation into SPDs and other Development Plan documents.

Shaun is a Chartered Member of the Royal Town Planning Institute.

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