11:16, August 06 153 0 theguardian.com

2020-08-06 11:16:04
Why England's planning overhaul has sparked an outcry

A once-in-a-generation transformation of planning law has been unveiled by the government as it launched a 12-week consultation on its white paper: Planning for the Future.

But the proposals, which promise to “replace the entire corpus of plan-making law”, have sparked an outcry. Here are some of the details and areas of controversy:

‘Streamlining’ of planning and three categories of land

Substantial development will take place in “growth” areas, where approval would be secured automatically if specific types of developments are chosen based on locally drawn up design codes.

The other categories are “renewal” areas, where some development such as “gentle densification” can take place, and “protected”, where development is restricted.

Local Plans, the documents that planning authorities draw up to guide on the future future development of the local area, and which are drawn up by the local planning authority, would be simplified and would set “rules” rather than general policies.

Greater digitisation and standardisation of planning

Local Plans should be shorter, online and based on a standard template. Councils would be supported to make it easier for people to express their views through social media and via their phones, no longer having to rely on notices on street lamps or trawl through lengthy PDF documents.

Critics say this is no longer the case anyway, with most planning applications and documents readily available online.

Beauty and standards

A “fast-track for beauty” would make it easier for those who want to “build beautifully””, automatically permitting proposals for high-quality developments that reflect local character and preferences.

Taking inspiration from the work of the late Conservative philosopher Roger Scruton, a body is to be established to support the delivery of binding “design codes” that would also cut red tape.

Critics suggest that this is ideological puffery that will have the opposite effect by creating a new administrative criteria and a field day for lawyers arguing over what is beauty.

Changes to developer contributions and affordable housing provisions

Developers of small sites would be exempted from payments towards local council infrastructure such as schools and affordable housing. This would be done through temporarily lifting the small sites threshold, below which they do not need to contribute to affordable housing, to up to 40 or 50 units.

Section 106, the law which enables councils to impose affordable housing on developers, would be axed. The community infrastructure levy, the charge which can be levied by local authorities on development in their area, would also be replaced and the current system of planning obligations would be based on a nationally set, flat-rate charge.

An “infrastructure levy” would be introduced, aimed at raising more revenue than under the current system and delivering at least as much on-site affordable housing. Critics view this is a grave erosion of local ability to benefit from the true values of new developments.