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Planning Reform: National Planning Policy

This page explains how the Royal Town Planning Institute expects the government’s proposed planning reforms to impact planning policy and practice.

Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill

It is right that planning reform features prominently in the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill because it is an essential public service driving health, prosperity and sustainability that communities and businesses need to thrive.

The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill and its supporting documents would fundamentally weaken England’s planning system without some important changes that the RTPI urge MPs and Lords to support.

The Royal Town Planning Institute has asked parliamentarians to:

  • Give communities a greater say through plan-making by requiring minimum standards of public and parliamentary scrutiny over new English NDMPs, incentivising greater devolved accountability for planning by allowing Combined Authorities some planning freedoms to innovate beyond NDMPs and to strengthen Spatial Development Strategy mechanisms, allowing tiers of local government to align public services and share in the responsibilities for strategic planning.
  • Improve England’s planning services by reinstating permission for Virtual Planning Committees and improve public confidence and standards of planning by requiring Chief Planning Officers within councils.
  • Drive local levelling up and environmental outcomes for communities by removing the Infrastructure Levy and aligning Environmental Outcomes Assessments with climate and health considerations.

Local plan-making consultation and research

Many planners will welcome proposals to improve the speed, coverage, and quality of local plans. However, England’s planning system needs more than just better processes to deliver the economic, social and environmental benefits that Local Plans can secure for communities.

Clarity and certainty about the Government’s planning and infrastructure reforms is also needed to create the right national and strategic context for plan-making, reducing the drag local planning authorities experience when adapting to changes in national planning policy, navigating contentious debates over housing numbers and land use or aligning plans with uncertain transport and other infrastructure investments.

Councils will also need local ambition, political support and sufficient resources to deliver the preparatory work expected under this plan-making system and resolve the Local Plans backlog that has been allowed to build up during more than a decade of cuts to planning services.

In our consultation response we have welcomed proposals to:

  • Simplify the plan making process
  • A new emphasis on local areas’ ‘visions’: A vision and outcomes focused approach must enable plans to focus on the concerns of local communities, be built on evidence about those issues and proactively pursue positive place-making.
  • Introduce new gateway assessments which offer the opportunity to resolve potential issues early and guide local Plan progression at the most difficult points.
  • Standardise the data used as evidence in the preparation of Local Plans which may help to promote regional knowledge sharing and strategic cooperation between councils

The RTPI commissioned independent research from DLP Planning to assess how the plan-making system In England has operated in a cross-section of cases, highlight good practice and outline the barriers to getting new plans in place.

We’ve prepared a briefing paper on the research here.

The full research can be accessed here.

NPPF consultation

The RTPI's response cautioned that the NPPF would allow government to progress with planning reform at the expense of the homes, infrastructure and regeneration.

Our members agree with Government that change is needed to strengthen our plan-led system, but we’ve shared a number of concerns because RTPI members believe these changes risk paying lip service to what communities need but give councils fewer policy tools to see them delivered.

In summary, we have suggested that:

  • The amount of homes and infrastructure delivered across England will be reduced because the checks and balances that underpin our planning system will have been upset. If implemented, residents in too few areas will feel supported by a plan-led system that is backed by evidence.
  • Planners will find themselves in an impossible position balancing increasingly incompatible policy goals. In addition to their resource constraints, local planning authorities now face a such a high bar to enable development that levelling up and place-making activity looks increasingly unlikely.
  • Net Zero, the climate emergency and our environment have been an afterthought in current proposals for planning reform, falling short of the urgent action we need. Further measures to improve policy will be critical, not just to protect nature but also to create green jobs and sustainable economic growth.
  • National Development Management Policies are acceptable in principle, but we need assurances this new policy framework will be limited in scope. It is important to protect development viability and encourage innovation, offering a floor - rather than a ceiling - to standards on climate change and other national priorities.
  • The proposed planning fees increase is welcome but we encourage the Government to address the fundamental questions that remain around how our planning system performs.

Read our full response here.

NDMPs research

National Development Management Policies are a foundational proposal of the Government’s Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill are a key component of the changes to planning policy that Government explained in its December 2022 consultation on changes to the National Planning Policy Framework.

The RTPI has previously expressed concern that these will have a profound impact on plans and projects for housing, infrastructure and services that communities and businesses rely on.

To inform our assessment of NDMPs and proposals for their implementation, the RTPI commissioned the University of Liverpool and ARUP to consider similar planning policy arrangements operating in other jurisdictions, assess their status and scope and reflect on how NDMPs might operate in England.

We’ve prepared a briefing paper on the research here.

The full research can be accessed here.