The LGA has responded to the Government’s proposed planning reforms.
The Government’s ‘Planning for the future’ White Paper proposed significant changes to the current planning system, which will require legal changes.
In the LGA’s response to the White Paper, we have told the Government that we support its aspirations for a more efficient, well-resourced planning system that supports local involvement in creating great places for current and future generations.
We also share its ambitions for communities to have a more meaningful voice in how plans are made, for greater use of digital technology, and a carbon-neutral future. Local government is ready to work with ministers to achieve these objectives.
Our response also highlights our concerns with some of the proposals, including a shift from a discretionary to rules-based approach, a shortened local plan process timeframe, and a potentially reduced role for councillors and communities that may impact on local democracy.
A locally led planning system in which councils and the communities they represent have a say over the way places develop will ensure the delivery of high-quality affordable homes with the necessary infrastructure to create sustainable, resilient places for current and future generations.
As we grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, stability and certainty in planning are needed, supported by the appropriate resourcing. Councils have expressed considerable concern about their already stretched capacity, and they and their planning departments need significant resources to transition to a new planning system, which may take years.
In our response, we note that the White Paper proposals appear to be on house building and speed, with little consideration given to the many roles planning and local planning authorities undertake together with their communities.
We recognise, however, the need to increase delivery of more types and tenures of homes, and suggest other areas of focus need to be considered, including connectivity, accessibility, health and wellbeing, access to green spaces, access to schools and jobs, and climate resilience.
“The system needs to be transparent and accessible to all”
There is also no detail in the White Paper about how planning for other local priorities, such as employment or infrastructure provision, will align with housing delivery.
Our submission raises concerns that proposals to shorten the local plan timeframe to 30 months and only allow community and councillor engagement at an early stage may limit, rather than enhance, engagement.
Proposals such as the new ‘growth’, ‘renewal’ and ‘protect’ areas are still very unclear, and a shift from a discretionary to rule-based system lacks robust justification. As an absolute minimum, any replacement for community infrastructure levy (CIL) and Section 106 development contributions should aim to capture at least the same amount of value as the existing system at an individual local authority level, rather than a national figure.
To succeed in meeting existing and future challenges, the planning system needs to be transparent, fit for purpose, and accessible to all.
We look forward to engaging with the Government to ensure its aspirations of an improved system work in practice. But without addressing many of the detailed issues, the proposed changes could have a detrimental effect on planning.
There also needs to be a joined up, whole-of-government approach to deliver on these aspirations. Constant, top-down, piecemeal reforms that lack regard for local circumstances add further confusion to the planning system and undermine the genuinely local, plan-led system that the Government promised to local areas.