Housing minister: New planning system will be more ‘engaging’

The housing minister Christopher Pincher has defended proposals to reform England’s planning system.
The housing minister Christopher Pincher. Credit: Richard Townshend/Creative Commons.

The housing minister Christopher Pincher has defended the government’s proposals to reform England’s planning system, saying that the new system will be ‘much more engaging [and] much more democratically empowering’ than the current model.

Speaking to the District Councils Network yesterday (14 October), Pincher said the current planning system ‘cannot meet’ the government’s ambitions of delivering 300,000 new homes a year, calling it ‘essentially opaque, very difficult to navigate, [and] slow’.

Pincher also said the government had been ‘pretty successful’ in its record of delivering homes in England – although new build homes started and completed continue to fall below government targets.

Pincher said: “We want a system which is more productive and strategic and upfront, rather than one which is rear-guard. We want one as well which delivers infrastructure where it is needed upfront and in a way that local communities can really buy into.

“Crucially, we want to make sure that the new system of planning engenders beautiful design where local communities have a real say in what their built environment is going to look like.”

The government published a white paper outlining its proposed reforms earlier this year, promising to prioritise local consultation and quality design under the new system.

The proposals are widely regarded to favour SME housebuilders as the government looks to speed up the construction of new homes.

The plans, out for consultation until the end of this month, have been criticised by local authorities who have warned they risk slashing the supply of new affordable homes.

Last week MPs on the Housing, Communities and Local Government (HCLG) Committee announced a new inquiry to investigate the government’s proposals.

Pincher stressed that any reforms will take time to implement, highlighting that many of the changes made in the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 still haven’t fully been rolled out.

“If we’re going to make this work, we’re not talking about legislative change,” Pincher said. “We’re talking about systemic and cultural change about the way we do planning.”

Pincher also mentioned the government’s Changes to the current planning system consultation, which closed on 1 October. This aims to allow some of the white paper’s reforms to progress in the short-term, such as temporarily lifting the small sites threshold below which developers do not need to contribute to affordable housing and changing how local housing need is assessed.

“The first driver of need must be affordability, because there are parts of our country – not just in the South and the South East – where the affordability is low and people who want and need to live in a certain place and work in that place cannot afford to do so… We need to find ways of dealing with that,” Pincher said.

“We also need to make sure that we are building homes in the right places to meet our wider aspirations to level up the country.”

Pincher confirmed that the consultation has now closed, adding that the government ‘will reflect very carefully’ on the feedback it has received.

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