Government announces sweeping planning reforms for England

A house being built.

The government has announced the biggest shakeup of the planning system in decades in a move to create ‘beautiful’ homes across England and hit its target of building 300,000 new homes a year.

The proposals, unveiled today in a white paper titled Planning for the future, will seek to cut the ‘complex’ planning system England has currently and make it easier to boost building on brownfield land while protecting green spaces.

Under the plans, land in England will be broadly designated into three categories – for growth, for renewal or for protection – decided by local communities.

New homes, schools, shops, and business space will automatically be waved through in designated ‘growth’ areas. Proposals for ‘renewal’ areas, such as urban and brownfield sites, will be given ‘permission in principle’ subject to basic checks, while green spaces and green belt land will continue to be protected.

The housing secretary Robert Jenrick said the ‘once in a generation’ reforms will provide more homes for young people and create better quality neighbourhoods and homes across the country.

Jenrick said: “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. As we face the economic effects of the pandemic, now is the time for decisive action and a clear plan for jobs and growth.”

The plans will be welcomed by SME developers frustrated by the current system, who the government says will be key in building the new homes the country needs.

Changes out for consultation in the white paper include ensuring that local housing plans are developed and agreed in 30 months, as every area will be expected to have a local plan in place.

The planning process will be replaced with a ‘clearer, rules-based’ system, while developer contributions will be replaced by a national levy.

The government will also look to create a fast-track system for ‘beautiful buildings’ and ensure that all new homes are ‘zero carbon ready’ by 2050.

One of the most controversial proposals will be the extension of the current exemption of small sites from having to make ‘section 106’ payments, which force developers to provide affordable housing. Section 106 agreements will be replaced by a new ‘infrastructure levy’ at a fixed proportion of the development’s value.

James Thomson, CEO of Gleeson Homes, which specialises in building homes across the Midlands and North of England, strongly supported the proposed reforms, saying: “The permission in principle initiative will help us to fast-track hundreds of new affordable homes for first-time buyers and essential workers on lower incomes who are eager to get a foot on the property ladder.

“Not only will these reforms go some way to supporting local SME housebuilders and their supply chains, but they will also help to ‘level-up’ the country through increased infrastructure investment, bringing jobs and homes to the north.”

In addition to its planning reforms, the government has confirmed that its new First Homes home ownership scheme will provide homes with a 30% discount to first-time buyers, key workers and low-income people. The government will now consult on its proposed measures and how the First Homes scheme can be delivered until 29 October.

Housing charities and planners have criticised the proposals, warning they do little to ensure the delivery of new affordable and social homes and risk creating ‘the slums of the future’.

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