Skip to main content
Close Menu Open Menu

Madeleine Pauker: A wave of planning reform consultations

Madeleine Pauker recently joined the RTPI as a Planning and Policy Advisor. She contributes to the Institute’s policy and practice for England and manages the National Association of Planning Enforcement.

Madeleine previously worked as a planner at Iceni Projects and Stevenage Borough Council and holds a master’s degree in Housing and City Planning from UCL. She has also worked as a local journalist, reporting on planning and housing in Santa Monica, California.

When I joined the RTPI on 22 May, I was quickly tasked with wrapping my head around a stack of consultations on proposed planning reforms covering everything from onshore wind projects to short-term lets. As I dug into the substance of the government’s recent proposals, I found that though many have worthy ambitions in tackling crucial planning priorities, these aren’t quite achieved in practice.

The devil in the details

Proposals to introduce an Infrastructure Levy and control short-term lets are certainly warranted but let down by their poor execution. In theory, a simpler system of planning gain that provides more certainty to developers and local planning authorities and more closely resembles a tax-based system would be preferable to the current discretionary approach. Similarly, it is clearly necessary for the planning system to control the creation of new short-term lets given their proliferation, but it is important to get this right.

The trouble with trying to apply a one-size-fits-all approach to planning gain is that the system will inevitably need enough flexibility to respond to local market conditions, infrastructure needs and types of development. The subsequent revisions made to the design of the Infrastructure Levy to reflect this reality have produced a system that would be more complex and resource intensive than the status quo of CIL and S106. Other novel approaches to capturing land value uplift for public infrastructure would be welcome, whether through taxation or by enabling planning authorities to strategically assemble land.

The government is right in trying to control short-term lets through the planning system, but its approach is sub-optimal. Controlling short-term lets via a new use class, new permitted development rights, and local Article 4 directions would produce a regime of regulation that would be geographically limited, centralise decision-making power, fail to address the existing stock of short-term lets and could result in a boom in conversions prior to local implementation. A more effective approach would entail amending the meaning of ‘development’ in the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, which would therefore require planning permission for all short-term lets and allow local authorities to tailor their use through planning policy. This could mean limiting short-term lets in certain areas and encouraging them in others where they contribute to local tourism economies. Crucially, doing so would be at the discretion of local authorities, not the Secretary of State, as in the government’s proposals.

A missed opportunity?

The government’s proposals relating to the national policy statements for energy and national networks and the protocols for community engagement and benefits for onshore wind are more reasonable but may pass up opportunities to promote deeper community participation.

The intention to streamline planning processes for energy infrastructure and designate major offshore wind infrastructure (and its onshore components) as a Critical National Priority to add weight in planning decisions is understandable, given the pressing need to reach net zero and achieve energy security. But both the Town and Country Planning and NSIP regimes must provide meaningful opportunities for participatory engagement to prevent a breakdown of trust between developers and communities, which will foment local opposition and lead to delays. And following the designation of onshore wind as a Critical National Priority, decision makers must continue to genuinely consider the context and impacts of each project.

Ultimately, offshore wind should be just one part of the energy mix planned for strategically and spatially. While the proposed review of the national policy statements for national networks provides suitable guidance in this direction, the proposals pass up the opportunity to provide spatial direction that would help increase the speed, reliability, and quality of delivery. The proposed changes to community engagement and benefits guidance for onshore wind projects are also welcome but should go further in encouraging participatory and deliberative models of community engagement – and should be enacted in tandem with removing the effective ban on onshore wind in the NPPF.

The government has also floated the idea of providing electricity bill discounts to communities that host wind farms. This sounds appealing but presents significant risks to the integrity of the system if not carefully implemented. DLUHC have said that these discounts would not constitute a material consideration in planning decisions, but how can this be ensured in practice? And what about the risk of perceptions of bribery? Or the long-standing principle that because planning permission is a publicly owned right, conferred by the state, planning benefits should be felt collectively, by communities, rather than individual households?

Out with the old, in with the new

Of these recent proposals, we are perhaps most concerned by Environmental Outcome Reports in both theory and practice. Replacing Strategic Environmental Appraisals with EORs that exclude the socioeconomic and health impacts of plans will weaken the ability of local planning authorities to be able to demonstrate to communities and developers that the plan prepared is a good one.

The Institute’s response

It’s heartening to see the government consult on a broad range of planning reforms that respond to genuine needs and concerns, but it should ensure that the details of its proposals live up to their ambitions.

The Institute has responded to each of these consultations according to the timetable below.

In addition we will be responding to 'Community Partnerships for Onshore wind' on 7 July and welcome members’ input on this. As ever, you can reach the Policy Team at [email protected].

Back to top