The publication of the government think tank’s report ’Rethinking the Planning System for the 21st Century’ set out its recommendations for an overhaul of the UK planning system.
It identified key deficiencies in the regime, including stunted and unsustainable urban growth; excessive restrictions causing the redistribution of wealth from renters to home owners; increased costs of commercial real estate; the reduction in small and medium-sized developers; contradictory policy objectives; and a complex and discretionary legal challenge process.
The paper recommended various reforms, some of which have been considered quite radical. They include introduction of binary zones, redefinition of local plans, development control based on rules and streamlining of the role of local politicians.
The issues that appear to be of most interest are the introduction of zones that will either be for land where there is a presumption in favour of new development (development land) or alternatively where there is no such presumption and minor development is only permitted in restricted circumstances (non-development land), as well as the streamlining of the role of politicians and the recommendation that they should have “no say over deciding applications”. For some, this may come as welcome news; however, it is this elected panel that provides the voice for members of the public.
The report concludes its summary with a warning: “A tepid and watered-down reform program will not address the fundamental issues hampering the planning and development processes.”
The prime minister’s speech at the beginning of July supported the removal of red tape. He motioned that we must build “better”, “greener” and “faster”.
In response, the RTPI fought back to what it considers “planner-bashing” in an open letter from its chief executive, calling on government to properly fund and utilise the resources it already has at its disposal. It describes planners as facilitators rather than barriers.
Some new planning rules aimed at revitalising town centres will come into force in September, the government has now announced. But the major reform of planning law promised by the prime minister is yet to emerge. My suspicion is that it will be a case of piecemeal and gradual tweaks to improve a well-established system that, as with most legal or policy-led regimes, will never (and doesn’t profess to) please everyone.
Kate Jardine is a planning lawyer at Thomson Snell & Passmore