The Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick set out plans for a reformed planning system on 12 March 2020.
The centre piece is Planning White Paper, which will be published in the Spring, described as a comprehensive review of what does and does not work.
What to look out for in the forthcoming white paper:
Changing how planning fees work – to ensure that planning authorities are properly resourced to improve the speed and quality of their decisions. This will be linked to a new performance framework to ensure performance improvements across the planning service for all users.
Automatic rebates where planning applications are successful at appeal –this is intended to focus the minds of planning committees, where applications are refused applicants will be entitled to an automatic rebate of their planning application fee if they are successful at appeal.
Ensure land for housing is built out – the Government will explore wider options to encourage planning permissions to be built out more quickly and greater transparency on land options.
Expand the use of zoning tools to support development – the government will outline further support for local areas to simplify the process of granting planning permission for residential and commercial development through zoning tools, such as Local Development Orders. The government will trial the use of templates for drafting LDOs and other zonal tools to create simpler models and financial incentives to support more effective use. The government has also launched a consultation on a new UK Freeport model, including on how zoning could be better used to support accompanying development.
Improve the effectiveness, take-up and role of Compulsory Purchase Orders to help facilitate land assembly and infrastructure delivery –most local authorities do not use their CPO powers, as the rules are complex and they can appear undemocratic. The government intends to consult on: introducing statutory timescales for decisions; ending the automatic right to public inquiry; encouraging early agreements on compensations; and exploring the scope to remit more decisions back to LAs; as well as wider reform. It is important that these reforms do not adversely impact on farm businesses preparing for the future.
This is a timely piece of work for farmers looking to plan their futures, given the Agriculture Bill has already started the transformation of the farmed economy. The planning system must work to ensure farmers can move to a sustainable intensification of land use, buildings, and operations, to create more effective and resilient food supplies for current and future generations. Only then can less productive land to be re-used for public goods. To allow more farm diversification and to support rural communities, it has to become fairer and more proportionate.
The Environment Bill will also be changing the planning system, for example by bringing in a 10% biodiversity net gain requirement for all new development requiring planning permission.
It will also require local authorities to develop biodiversity plans and develop ‘spatial strategies for nature’ called Local Nature Recovery Strategies. The planning system will need to work to manage these requirements alongside more productive farms and farm business diversification.
The farmer will need to meet higher environmental standards and to adapt to climate change, including the aspiration to be carbon zero by 2040. In practice Farmers will need more slurry stores; upgraded buildings and renewable energy, to help manage this change. The principle should be, if food, environmental and animal welfare regulations require change, the planning system should work to make it happen.
Many local planning authorities have declared climate change emergencies. Local authorities will be using the planning system to help implement and deliver changes when they apply to new development.
Promoting local food supplies and reducing reliance on imports can help reduce everyone’s carbon footprint. We currently import around 93% of all the fruit we eat, that is not sustainable. We need more polytunnels and glasshouses to produce the vegetables and fruit we need and to reduce pressure on climate stressed environments abroad. We need a food renaissance and increased food resilience as part of heathier lives for all.
The NFU has worked to promote the use permitted development rights because they provide certainty for the farmer, they can complement the huge complexity of farming regulation that farmers have to comply with to produce high quality, safe and high welfare food. These rules need to increase again to move with the times. For example, if the Government is proposing to allow urban buildings to be demolished and rebuilt under permitted development, these needs to happen in rural areas too, as well as the promotion of more rural building refurbishment.
The Government made a Manifesto commitment to driving down costs and support small businesses and nowhere is that more relevant that the planning system. Costs to submit a planning application with an increasingly complex range of supporting documents, is spiraling. It is worrying that the Government is set to increase costs and change the system again. Businesses need the confidence to invest.
The Government also committed to levelling up all parts of the United Kingdom, including rural and coastal communities, and for farming and fishing. Local planning departments have already suffered major funding cutbacks, especially in rural areas. Conservation officers and ecologists have themselves become endangered species.
Many parish council’s do not have the resources to promote Local Development Orders or affordable homes through neighbourhood plans. Local authorities often will not survey sparse rural communities to assess their housing needs. Yet local communities are changing, becoming older and more remote from services or support, more people are moving in, creating second homes and influencing local politics. The rural worker can often be priced out, more affordable homes are needed.
The Government also has an ambition to make it easier for communities to engage and play a role in decisions which affect them and giving local authorities the ability to ensure that new homes conform to local resident’s ideas of beauty through the planning system. It is important that this objective is provided for all, and produces functional, living places for those who work and support rural communities rather than create barriers to the system.
There is a real opportunity therefore to think about how the planning system can work to support food production and work alongside farmers to improve the rural environment in a more holistic way.
This will start with the Government strengthening the National Planning Policy Framework, not just to look at beauty, but fundamentally food security and the protection of best and most versatile land, but also how to plan for climate change in a way that protects rural communities and can help them thrive. In truth we all need a planning system that will ensure the objectives of the Agriculture Bill can be delivered.