There is a lot to unpack in Michael Gove’s latest announcements on planning reform. However, his general retreat from meaningful planning reform, his intention to penalise developers on buildout rates and his approach to diluting the ability to deliver housing will be to the detriment of those in desperate need of housing – and is a significant step backward.
But what also needs to be tackled urgently is streamlining the planning process and dealing with the chronic shortage of planners and excessive workload. A Federation of Master Builders survey recently found inadequate resourcing of planning was the biggest barrier to housing delivery.
Public sector planning officers aren’t paid enough to be attracted to the profession; planning performance agreements do not translate into retaining the best talent, and nor do they provide value for money and accountability on the level of service provided. On top of that, being a planning officer can often be a thankless job.
There is some light at the end of the tunnel for resourcing planning applications. Since this year’s local elections, several London local authorities have quietly taken the opportunity to review their constitution and schemes of delegation, with fewer applications going to committee.
However, there is considerable room for improvement. Minor material amendment applications for strategic applications are still referrable to the mayor, which can cause extra delays. As build costs and supply chain issues escalate, to enable housing delivery, London mayor Sadiq Khan would do well to focus on the volume of affordable housing delivered, as well as the percentage.
Planning in London is likely to get more complicated too, with requirements for carbon optioneering and embodied carbon studies at pre-application stage. In this area, the decision on Marks & Spencer’s Oxford Street redevelopment could have far-reaching implications.
It is imperative planning reform is progressed to fix the issues that have plagued the system for so long. Even if the government is not brave enough to consider proper planning reform, then resourcing needs to be tackled and more talented individuals attracted to the profession.
Laura Jenkinson, principal, planning, Avison Young
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