Planning Reform - Levelling-Up, or Unravelling?

The recent Queen’s Speech set out that the draft Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill is to be enshrined as legislation. But what does this mean for planning?


The Levelling -up and Regeneration Bill effectively replaces the previous Planning Bill – that’s right, no more radical European style zoning system which really, without the budget to see it through, seemed destined, in any event, for failure.


Instead, the new Bill seeks to empower local communities, promote ‘beautiful’ design and ensure that development is accompanied by affordable housing and new infrastructure whilst still looking to streamline and centralise certain aspects of the Local Plan system.


The Government intends to create a ‘National Development Management Policies’ document shifting development plans away from the nitty gritty, repeating-the-NPPF-style of policy approach that we currently see and encouraging plans instead to focus on ‘locally specific matters’, leaving local authorities safe in the knowledge that their absolute dying wish to see a noise assessment submitted to justify noise impacts from a children’s nursery (yes, we jest not!!), is enshrined within national policy.


In addition development plans will be ‘digitised’ however what this means over and above an interactive contents page of a Local Plan remains to be seen.


A focus on local matters means once again a nod to the Tory heartlands and neighbourhood planning. A so-called ‘street votes’ system really digs down into the true intent of localism and will allow neighbours to have a determining opinion on development which could directly affect them (positively or negatively) by voting yay or nay to proposals ‘on their street’. Bring out your NIMBYs!


Due to Brexit, the EU’s Environmental Impact Assessment and the Strategic Environmental Assessment will be replaced by a new ‘Environmental Outcomes Report’ procedure but quite how this assesses the impact of dumping sewage around our coastlines, we are as yet, unsure.


A few things we do like about the reforms include prescribed time limits for development plan preparation and the opportunity for local authorities to receive feedback and advice from the Planning Inspectorate before they reach examination. The intention to speed up the painfully slow development plan process could be a real shot in the arm for developers and landowners alike.


An approximate 30% increase in planning application fees must also be welcomed if we are ever to begin to tackle the under-resourcing of local authority planning departments, and whilst this can in no way be seen as the panacea for such issues it will hopefully pave the way for increased opportunities for staff training/recruitment and more efficient engagement at application stage.


Finally, as has been the case for most planning announcements in recent years, there will be a huge focus on design quality. Building on the National Design Guide, each local authority will be required to formulate a design code to ensure that good design is the new ‘golden thread’ running through the planning system. As many of our clients will testify, we love getting involved in design and work very hard to and raise design standards, so again this something we are rejoicing in the office but inputs must not be dictatorial and must allow for creativity in the right environments.


The true test of the success of the reforms will be whether housing delivery is accelerated. To be honest we are a little skeptical, as delivery of such large numbers of homes will always be reliant on the private sector, who as we know have different aspirations to those in Government and those with whom greater consultation will be taking place as a result of the Bill.


Let us know what you think, we’d be delighted to hear from you at info@crowleyassociates.co.uk.