Greater flexibility in planning has been a lifeline for many projects during the pandemic.
In 2020-21, the government introduced temporary measures to extend the life of certain planning permissions and listed building consents, with new flexible use classes and permitted development rights becoming permanent.
Some of these measures echo the 2020 ‘Planning for the Future’ white paper’s aspiration for a more flexible approach to the use of land. The government argued that a zonal approach could be combined with further changes in use classes and permitted development rights to create a system that would be more adaptable to the changing needs of the economy and society. The government also proposed the greater use of digital tools to increase flexibility in the system, including for planning appeals.
The Centre for Cities has argued that planning reform is central to the government’s levelling-up agenda. The government’s long-awaited Levelling Up White Paper was unveiled on 2 February 2022 and puts 12 ‘missions’ to be achieved by 2030 at its heart. The 300-page white paper states that a “strong planning system is vital to level up communities”, and that reform of the planning system is necessary for creating a more just and fair housing system.
However, measures referenced – such as simplifying local plans and introducing a new infrastructure levy – add little detail to what was already in the 2020 white paper at first glance. Nonetheless, while the publication date of a new Planning Bill in 2022 remains uncertain, reluctance among key stakeholders is having a detrimental effect on the industry.
Flexibility is a welcome characteristic for upcoming reform and could also serve the levelling-up agenda. However, it is only one element of a planning system that can be considered fit for purpose. The industry therefore awaits the Planning Bill with interest.
James Cook is a partner and head of planning law at Blacks Solicitors