06 AUG 2020


The government has sets out its plans to overhaul what it has described as an “outdated planning system” to reform the way the country builds and deliver homes faster.

Launching Planning for the Future, the government’s consultation to reform the planning system, housing secretary Robert Jennrick said: “Our complex planning system has been a barrier to building the homes people need; it takes seven years to agree local housing plans and five years just to get a spade in the ground.

“These once in a generation reforms will lay the foundations for a brighter future, providing more homes for young people and creating better quality neighbourhoods and homes across the country. We will cut red tape, but not standards, placing a higher regard on quality, design and the environment than ever before. Planning decisions will be simple and transparent, with local democracy at the heart of the process.”

The government has unveiled nothing less than a total overhaul of the country’s planning system with the delivery of high-quality, sustainable homes at the heart of its strategy. The landmark changes will transform a system that the government says has long been criticised for being “too sluggish in providing housing for families, key workers and young people and too ineffectual in obligating developers to properly fund the infrastructure – such as schools, roads and GP surgeries – to support them”.

Reassuring critics of the plans – and there are many – the government has pledged that valued green spaces and the Green Belt will continue to be protected for future generations, with the reforms allowing for more building on brownfield land. Local community agreement will be at the centre of the proposals being put forward in the white paper, Planning for the Future, published today (6.8.20).

The landmark changes are set to transform an outdated system that the government says has long been criticised for being too sluggish in providing badly needed housing and too ineffectual in obligating developers to properly fund the infrastructure - such as schools, roads and GPs surgeries - that is needed to support them.

The proposed changes will be a major boost to SME builders currently cut off by the planning process, say the government. “They will be key players in getting the country building on the scale needed to drive our economic recovery, while leading housebuilding that is beautiful and builds on local heritage and character,” said the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government in a statement today.

“The current system has shown itself to be unfavourable to small businesses, with the proportion of new homebuilding they lead on dropping drastically from 40% 30 years ago to just 12% today. Recent studies show smaller firms feel the complexities of the planning process and its associated risks, delays and costs are the key challenges they face in homebuilding,” the ministry claimed.

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick said: “Our complex planning system has been a barrier to building the homes people need. As we face the economic effects of the pandemic, now is the time for decisive action and a clear plan for jobs and growth. Our reforms will create thousands of jobs, lessen the dominance of big builders in the system, providing a major boost for small building companies across the country.”

The reforms will mean:

  • Local communities will be consulted from the very beginning of the planning process. By harnessing the latest technology through online maps and data, the whole system will be made more accessible.
  • 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.
  • Much-needed homes will be built quicker by ensuring local housing plans are developed and agreed in 30 months – down from the current seven years.
  • Every area to have a local plan in place – currently only 50% of local areas has a plan to build more homes.
  • 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 at appeal.
  • A new simpler national levy to replace the current system of developer contributions which often causes delay.
  • 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 new and simpler system of developer contributions will also ensure private firms play their part in funding the new infrastructure and affordable homes that should accompany new building.

The government’s proposals will be welcomed by many in the construction and housing sector, though the sector’s leaders will be studying the fine print of the consultation to see if the encouraging intentions will be backed up by real action that will ensure that infrastructure delivery happens at the pace required.

Welcoming the proposals, Helen Evans, chief executive of Network Homes and chair of the G15 group of London’s largest housing associations said: “The country needs many more affordable homes and the planning system makes an important contribution towards that. I strongly welcome the intention of government’s proposed reforms to increase transparency and certainty to help increase the delivery of affordable homes.”

The reforms also propose to replace Section 106 agreements and the Community Infrastructure Levy with a new Infrastructure Levy that will be a fixed proportion of the value of the development, above a set threshold, helping to deliver more affordable housing. Revenues would be spent locally on projects such as new roads, upgraded playgrounds and discounted homes for local, first-time buyers.

This move drew criticism from the homeless charity Shelter who said that social housing “could face extinction” if the requirement for developers to build their fair share was removed. “Section 106 agreements between developers and councils are tragically one of the only ways we get social homes built these days, due to a lack of direct government investment, so it makes no sense to remove this route to genuinely affordable homes without a guaranteed alternative,” said Shelter’s chief executive, Polly Neate.

Click here to download Planning for the Future, the government’s consultation to reform the planning system

Later today, Infrastructure Intelligence will be hosting an online panel debate on how the planning system can help deliver the economic infrastructure element of the government's "build, build, build" agenda. A recording of the debate together with a news report on its conclusions will be available next week on our website. 


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