‘Landmark’ planning reforms: will they really benefit the Kent countryside?

CPRE Kent, the countryside charity, has given a cool response to “once-in-a-generation reforms” to the country’s planning system proposed by the government today (Thursday, August 6).
Described as “landmark reforms to speed up and modernise the planning system and get the country building”, the changes proposed in the Planning for the Future White Paper are unlikely to benefit our countryside, John Wotton, chairman of CPRE Kent, said. 
Mr Wotton was responding to a statement from the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government and Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick saying “an overhaul of the country’s outdated planning system that will deliver the high-quality, sustainable homes communities need will be at the heart of the most significant reforms to housing policy in decades”.
According to the statement, core reforms will mean:

  • Local communities will be consulted from the very beginning of the planning process. By harnessing the latest technology through online maps and data, the whole system will be made more accessible
  • Valued green spaces will be protected for future generations by allowing for more building on brownfield land and all new streets to be tree-lined
  • Much-needed homes will be built quicker by ensuring local housing plans are developed and agreed in 30 months – down from the current seven years
  • Every area is to have a Local Plan in place – currently only 50 per cent of local areas have a plan to build more homes
  • The planning process is to be overhauled and replaced with a clearer, rules-based system. Currently around a third of planning cases that go to appeal are overturned at appeal
  • A new simpler national levy to replace the current system of developer contributions, which often causes delay
  • The creation of a fast-track system for beautiful buildings and establishing local design guidance for developers to build and preserve beautiful communities
  • All new homes are to be ‘zero carbon ready’, with no new homes delivered under the new system needed to be retrofitted as we achieve our commitment to net zero carbon emissions by 2050

One of the more contentious aspects of the proposals is the concept of zonal planning, with land designated in one of three categories: growth, renewal or protection.
It is also stated that “valued green spaces and Green Belt will continue to be protected for future generations, with the reforms allowing for more building on brownfield land”, while “local community agreement will be at the centre of the proposals”.
However, Mr Wotton said: “We find hard to see how the planning reform proposals, unveiled by the government this morning, will benefit the Kent countryside.
“The policy driving the proposals, of building more homes, more quickly, appears to override the safeguards in the present system ensuring that local communities’ needs are taken into account and that harm to the environment and landscape from building new homes is prevented.
“If local authorities are to lose their ability to approve the details of new developments, by what means can the views of local communities continue to have real force?
“We support the efficient provision of sufficient sustainable, affordable homes in Kent, in the places where they are most needed and where they will not harm the countryside, especially our much-valued Green Belt and two Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and we support, as a general principle, the use of brownfield sites first.
“We are concerned that a standard infrastructure levy for housing developments, in place of Section 106 Agreements, will hand over the responsibility for the provision of both the additional infrastructure required as a result of new development and the provision of affordable housing from developers to local authorities, who may not have the resources to make these things happen.
“We will be studying these proposals in detail, in conjunction with the wider CPRE network and will participate actively in the coming public debate.”
Echoing Mr Wotton’s concerns, Tom Fyans, CPRE’s deputy chief executive, said: “The key acid test for the planning reforms is community involvement and on first reading, it’s still not clear how this will work under a zoning system.
“Although we welcome the government’s commitment to all areas having a Local Plan in place, we also need robust legal guarantees that the public are consulted regarding new development.
“Red lines on a map are not going to build trust in the planning system. As things stand, the government seems to have conflated digitalising planning with democratic planning – they’re not the same thing. 
“The government’s aim to deliver carbon-neutral new homes by 2050 is pitiful and represents 34 lost years given that the Code for Sustainable Homes aimed to achieve the same thing by 2016 and was dropped by government.
“If this government is serious about tackling the climate emergency, it needs to be much, much more ambitious on new-build. 
“On affordable homes, our concern is how this approach might play out in the countryside. In many rural areas, house prices are often more than 10 times average earnings, and so the 30 per cent discount won’t cut it. Local authorities should be able to provide the sorts of homes needed in their area – homes that local people can afford. 
“We have long advocated for a genuinely brownfield-first approach and on this aspect, the government seems to have listened. But if a brownfield-first approach is to work, local authorities need to be able to prioritise the building of those sites and reject unnecessary losses of greenfield land.” 

  • Read Planning for the Future here
  • You can also read the document and learn more about the consultation here 
  • Read the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government press statement here
  • Read more on planning reform here and here

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Remember localism? Now prepare to meet zonal planning and development corporations

How much say will local authorities have in future development?

If you thought the planning system was already loaded in favour of developers, things might be about to get a whole lot worse.
The government is reportedly considering a ‘zonal planning system’ in which “key decisions will be taken from local councils and handed to development corporations”.
Dominic Cummings, the Prime Minister’s chief adviser, is said to be influencing the government’s approach to planning and working with Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, on a plan to “kick-start housebuilding and infrastructure spending”.
The Sunday Times reported that a “committee of experts assembled by the duo” has met to “think about very substantive changes” to planning regulations.
The panel includes Bridget Rosewell, a commissioner for the National Infrastructure Commission, property developer Sir Stuart Lipton and planning barrister Christopher Katkowski QC.
The newspaper said one of the proposed measures would allow high-street businesses to change their use “with complete flexibility”.
Further, there would be a “move to a zonal planning system where key decisions will be taken from local councils and handed to development corporations — though building on the Green Belt will not be permitted”.
In what appears part of an ominous trend, a document was published in March alongside the policy paper Planning for the Future, saying the government’s forthcoming Planning White Paper would “propose measures to accelerate planning”.
It added that the government would “trial the use of templates for drafting local development orders and other zonal tools to create simpler models and financial incentives to support more effective use”.
The Sunday Times has also reported that “Cummings and Jenrick are backing a new fast-track system for developers of high-quality, well-designed buildings”.
Asked about the media reports, a Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government Planning spokesman said: “The government has already set out an ambitious programme to modernise our planning system.
“Our Planning for the Future reforms will support the delivery of homes that local people need and create greener communities with more beautiful homes”.
While some local authorities in Kent can often appear less than sympathetic towards our natural environment, moves to take away their responsibility for “key decisions” and hand it to development corporations surely detract from the principle of democracy. Whatever happened to localism?     

Tuesday, June 16, 2020