MPs call for rethink of English planning law reform

Out-Law News | 11 Jun 2021 | 3:40 pm | 2 min. read

Government plans to speed up and modernise the planning system in England require further thought, a cross-party committee of MPs has warned.

In a new report, the House of Commons housing, communities and local government committee said that it was “unpersuaded” by the government’s proposed approach, under which different planning rules would apply depending on whether land was ‘zoned’ for growth, renewal or protected purposes. The committee was also critical of the government’s ability to meet its annual target of 300,000 new housing units, as well as proposals to replace developer contributions with a single ‘national infrastructure levy’.

The committee has recommended a re-think by the government of certain aspects of the proposals, backed by better evidence and further detail.

The government intends to publish a new Planning Bill aimed at creating a “simpler, faster and more modern” planning system. Last year, it published a white paper and consultation setting out its plans, to which it has not yet published its response.

“We have sympathy with the government’s wish to enhance the importance of local plans, but we are unpersuaded that the government’s zoning-based approach will produce a quicker, cheaper and democratic planning system,” the committee said in its report.

The committee also called for an additional £500 million investment for local planning authorities over a four-year period, allowing them to put the necessary resources and skills in place ahead of any reform. The funding should be guaranteed before the Planning Bill is introduced to parliament, it said.

The government has been asked to respond to the committee within two months.

Under the approach proposed in the consultation, local planning authorities (LPAs) would be expected to classify land in their local plans into one of three categories: ‘growth’ areas suitable for substantial development; ‘renewal’ areas suitable for substantial development; and ‘protected’ areas, including the green belt, where development is restricted. Local plans themselves would be simplified, shortened and standardised, replacing general policies for development with a core set of standards and requirements; with a shortened statutory timetable for publication put in place.

The committee said that it heard some support for the zoning-based approach during its inquiry. However, the majority of those providing evidence were opposed, saying that the proposals lacked detail. The committee is recommending that the government put forward an alternative, more detailed proposal, with pre-legislative scrutiny by the committee recommended. If the government decides to go ahead with the zoned approach, additional categories of land should be considered and local communities given more of a say over plans for ‘growth’ areas.

The government has also proposed replacing the current system of developer contributions, including section 106 agreements and the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL), with a new infrastructure levy, set at a fixed proportion of the value of the development above a set threshold. The committee agreed that there was “a case” for replacing or reforming CIL with a system based on land value capture, but that section 106 should be retained in order to “protect against a possible loss of affordable housing”.

The committee called on the government to provide more evidence in support of its 300,000 annual housing units target and how it intends to achieve it, “both by tenure and by location”. To speed up the construction of new housing, developers should be given 18 months from discharge of planning conditions to commence work, then a further 18 months to complete the development. LPAs should be able to revoke planning permission for sites where work does not commence in time, and local authorities permitted to charge full council tax on units not completed in time.

The committee was also concerned that the government’s proposals “unduly concentrate on housing” at the expense of other elements of planning; particularly those connected with economic activity, specialist housing provision and sustainable transport.