MPs urge government to outline planning reforms in better detail

The HCLG Committee says it is "unpersuaded" that current government proposals will make the planning system quicker and more democratic.
The village of Lulworth Cove in Dorset, England.

A cross-party group of MPs has expressed concern about the “lack of detail” in the government’s plans to reform England’s current planning system.

The Housing, Communities and Local Government (HCLG) Committee has reacted cautiously to the government’s proposals to move to a new zone-based system, saying they are “unpersuaded that [this] will produce a quicker, cheaper and democratic planning system”.

In a new report, the committee has also urged the government to provide more information about how it plans to reach its housebuilding target of building 300,000 homes a year.

Clive Betts, chair of the HCLG Committee, said: “The government’s aim of developing a planning system that enables buildings to be built more quickly and with greater input from local communities is welcome, but it is far from clear how the current proposals will achieve this. The government’s three areas proposal needs to be reconsidered.

“We also need much more information about the government’s target to build 300,000 homes every year – as well as the changes to the housing formula announced last December. It’s all very well having numbers on paper – but we need to know how we get to them in reality.”

Last year the government published its Planning for the future white paper, outlining the most significant overhaul to England’s planning system in decades.

Among the key proposals made in the white paper were to split land into three different classifications – growth, renewal and protected areas – and introducing a new single infrastructure levy to replace the Community Infrastructure Levy and section 106 contributions.

During the government’s consultation on the plans, housing figures were quick to warn that the proposals could have a detrimental impact on the delivery of affordable homes.

In its report, the HCLG Committee has warned of the “cumulative effect” that government plans to scrap section 106 agreements, raise the threshold for small sites exempt from affordable housing, and expand permitted development rights will have on posing challenges to affordable housing provision.

Advising the government to retain section 106 agreements if they can’t be easily replicated, the committee has urged ministers to guarantee “there will be no reduction in the amount of affordable housing, including social housing, being delivered as a result of their proposed changes.”

Cllr David Renard, the Local Government Association’s planning spokesperson, commented: “With more than 1.1 million homes given planning permission over the past decade yet to be built and councils approving 9 in 10 planning applications, it is clear that the planning system is not a barrier to housebuilding and that it is the housing delivery system which is in need of reform.

“There are also more than a million more homes on land earmarked in local plans for development by councils that are yet to be brought forward by developers for planning permission.

“It is therefore good the Committee backs our call for councils to be able to levy full council tax on incomplete properties, as an incentive to get developers building more quickly.

“A local, democratically-led planning system remains critical so local communities can continue to have their say on developments, ensure the right homes are built in the right places and shape the area they live in.”

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government called the conclusions of the report “speculative” as it has not yet published a response to its consultation on Planning for the future.

“As the report rightly identifies, the planning system is in need of improvement and our reforms will mean a quicker, more efficient and less bureaucratic planning system so we can build more much needed homes across the country,” the spokesperson said.

“Local people and high quality design will be at the heart of these changes, while protecting our heritage and green spaces.”

Image credit: Dimitris Vetsikas from Pixabay.

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