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Planning overhaul criticised for allowing automatic permission to build

Written by: Owain Thomas
Building projects in certain areas will be given automatic permission in principle under the government’s proposals to completely overhaul the planning system in England.

The controversial proposals have been strongly criticised for failing to guarantee suitable housing, delaying the commitment to net-zero constructions and reducing community oversight and consultation.

Under the rules, local authorities in England will be required to divide land into three types of area – growth, renewal and protected – and must allocate plans for each of those areas.

Areas identified as growth areas, which are suitable for substantial development, would automatically be granted outline planning permission for the principle of development.

Meanwhile automatic approvals would also be available for pre-established development types in other areas suitable for building.

However, it is unclear what standards for size and other features would be used and who would set them.

There would also be reduced consultation for local communities “because this adds delay to the process and allows a small minority of voices, some from the local area and often some not, to shape outcomes,” the government said.

SME developers will also be encouraged as the proposals include more provision for mixed development schemes to prevent large developers monopolising land and speed build out.

Certainty to developers

The sweeping changes are part of what the government is calling a rules-based approach to planning which it argues that the measures will bring England into line with most major western societies.

This, it believes, will provide more certainty to developers and communities about what projects will be completed in which areas.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) also believes this will speed up the system and reduce appeals – at present a third of decisions are overturned on appeal.

And it intends to increase the supply of properties through modern methods of construction (MMC) and help support more environmentally friendly homes.

However, warnings have been made that loosening building regulations could result in poor quality homes not suitable for living in.

Failure to deliver

The Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA), which has been arguing for reform of the planning system, was particularly critical of the plans.

“We are deeply concerned that the proposals will undermine local democracy, marginalise local councils and fail to achieve the kind of high quality places that the government is committed to delivering,” it said.

The TCPA noted that none of its tests for the overhaul had been met and was disappointed that the Raynsford Review had been ignored.

“The complex proposals in the White Paper will move permission to the plan making stage, reducing democratic oversight and streamlining public consultations,” it continued.

“At the same time the paper is weak on the contribution the planning system must make to health and wellbeing.

“It also puts back the date for achieving zero carbons homes to beyond 2025. It seeks to abolish the much-criticised duty to cooperate but offers no framework for strategic planning to replace it,” it added.

Opponents have also highlighted that enough planning permissions have been granted to meet the government’s 300,000 homes per year target, but builders are failing to take them up.

Decision time limits

Under the plans, local authorities and the planning inspectorate will be given, through legislation, no more than 30 months in total (down from seven years) for key stages of the process, and there will be sanctions for those who fail to do so.

This could involve the automatic refund of the planning fee but may also include some types of applications being granted planning permission if there has not been a decision within the time limit.

Facilities such as schools, hospitals and GP surgeries will be prioritised, applicants will be able to appeal against a decision by a local planning authority and the secretary of state will retain the power to call in decisions.

Announcing the plans, housing secretary Robert Jenrick 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,” he added.

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