We have heard a lot about how the ‘Planning for the future white paper’ offers a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make the planning system fit for the 21st century. The outlook is promising: quicker local plan creation with more focus on strategic decisions, clearer designations and a simpler planning process – all making more of technology and the efficiencies and inclusivity it can deliver.
The acid test is: how will this actually happen? How will the White Paper translate into law, be applied across the country and, ultimately, enforced? And what will happen in the interim?
For many of us, successful implementation means tackling three key areas.
First, we need workable structures around developer contributions, public services and infrastructure, particularly for the replacement of S106 and CIL. The certainty of standard, nationally set infrastructure levy charges needs to be blended with bespoke local measures currently dealt with through the S106 process and to reflect divergent land values.
Second, statutory consultees such as the Environment Agency and Natural England will need to transform their approach, with appropriate resourcing and accountability. Separate charging mechanisms for statutory consultees would be welcomed, but only if they ensure consistency and more rapid turnaround times.
Finally, local authorities need the leadership and resourcing to grapple with the big issues, particularly with ‘growth’ zones, to consult on and create effective local plans that are right for their area and within the new 30-month timeframe. LPA planning and heritage teams must grow and design specialists must be recruited. Councils will need to look externally for more specialist advice, too. Algorithms aside, we need councils with the appetite, resources and skills to tackle the challenges we face around growth and housing.
So, while there will be many opportunities in the long term to bring forward schemes responding to this new approach, a more important opportunity is here now, with the chance to progress schemes to delivery before these changes take place. Even going into Brexit and with the effects of the pandemic being felt across the economy, now could be the most certainty in the planning system we will see for a while.
Craig Blatchford is head of planning at Montagu Evans