Well they would wouldn’t they – quality is already a distant memory

Reforms outlined by housing secretary Robert Jenrick have been broadly welcomed by the built environment industry, but they warn that quality must not be compromised.

Writing in the The Telegraph, Jenrick says England’s “outdated and cumbersome” planning system has contributed to a “generational divide” between those who own property and those who don’t.

Later this week, a policy paper will be published comprising “radical and necessary reforms” to the planning system. 

“Our reforms seek a more diverse and competitive housing industry, in which smaller builders can thrive alongside the big players and where planning permissions are turned into homes faster than they are today,” he explains. “Creating a new planning system isn’t a task we undertake lightly, but it is both an overdue and a timely reform.” 

Responding on Twitter, the RTPI said the government appears to have recognised its “tests” and in particular its four tests for zoning.

“As part of these reforms, we’re pleased that government seems to be making a commitment to maintaining local democracy, use of locally agreed design codes, increased focus on strategic planning and clear direction on meeting net-zero carbon targets.

“We are also interested to see an intention to move away from ‘notices on lamp posts’ to a more interactive, accessible online system – by focusing more on digital, planners will be freed up to do more proactive, strategic work, focused on delivery.

“We await the full policy paper due later this week. The RTPI looks forward to leading the discussion on any reform to the planning system in England by convening a series of round tables across its nine English regions to discuss the reforms in detail.”

‘Gross oversimplification’

Tom Fyans, director of campaigns and policy at countryside charity CPRE said: “The government’s intended reforms sound like a gross oversimplification of the planning system. First and foremost, our planning process must respond to the needs of communities, both in terms of providing much-needed affordable homes and other vital infrastructure, and green spaces for our health and wellbeing. 

“The planning process as it stands may not be perfect, but instead of deregulating planning, the government must invest in planning. Quality development needs a quality planning system with community participation at its heart.

“The secretary of state has claimed that these planning reforms will still be very much ‘people-focused’ but that flies in the face of what has been outlined today by the government. We eagerly await more details and will be joining forces with a range of other housing, planning and environmental campaigning bodies to push back hard on the deregulation agenda, which has never been the answer to the question of how best to boost economic growth.”

‘So far so good’

Jenrick’s plans to “strip bureaucracy and delay” from the planning system are a case of “so far so good” for Peter Hogg, UK cities director at Arcadis.

“The new approach may make it easier to get a consent, but how will it make the all-important financial viability – without proof of which housebuilders won’t build – more certain? Unless the policy addresses this we will have more planning consents but not more homes.

“Perhaps most of all though, where is the voice of the community in this new approach? Vibrant, sustainable liveable places take root and succeed where interests are balanced and the community is at the heart of shaping and defining a place. It will be important to make sure that ‘permission in principle’ doesn’t equate to ‘ignoring communities’ in fact.”

Acknowledgement of social infrastructure encouraging

Ken Dytor, founder and executive chairman of Urban Catalyst, said: “It’s encouraging that the government has put social infrastructure such as schools and hospitals alongside housing in its plans to speed up development.

“While the housing secretary is right that the uninspiring design of some developments fuels Nimbyism, concerns over additional pressure on existing public services are typically another major driver behind local opposition to new development.

“Similarly encouraging is the drive to harness greater community participation in the planning process by embracing a more 21st century tech-savvy approach. This should hopefully lead to a wider range of voices being heard, resulting in more inclusive, balanced developments.

“However, if the government’s ‘build, build, build’ agenda is to align with its ‘levelling up’ promise, we need to see regionally driven infrastructure linked to housing delivery to kick-start both national and local growth.”

Many measures already possible

Bernadette Hillman, partner in the planning team at London-based law firm, Sharpe Pritchard, commented: “Much of what the government proposes is possible under the current system and we should be building on the existing regime. Permission in principle already exists and there really is no need for major reform: just some technical adjustments and properly resourced local planning departments.

“We’ve seen permissions for millions of homes in the last 10 years not being implemented: we need delivery.

“There’s so much we don’t know yet – the devil will be in the detail, of course, and it will be an interesting few days ahead.”

Can’t be limited to housing

Mike Derbyshire, head of planning at property consultancy Bidwells, one of the key protagonists in the property industry’s Radical Regeneration Manifesto campaign, is on board with reforms.

“Our regeneration think tank has been calling for exactly this to happen – a radical overhaul of an antiquated system that has not evolved alongside modern real estate, communities and social systems; a fairer planning system that is inclusive and that prioritises environmentally friendly practices, and designated areas where planning can be fast-tracked.

“We are pleased to see the government taking action to ensure that, on paper, the right sort of regeneration and development happens. We now need to see how this works in practice; for example, it cannot be limited to housing as mixed-use development is just as important to the success of modern communities and well-designed cultural neighbourhoods are crucial to a more positive and united society. But it is a step in the right direction and one which we will watch unfold with great interest and will to succeed.”

Cannot compromise on quality

Mark Crane, the District Councils Network’s lead member for stronger economies, said:

“Getting the country building desperately needed homes again will be a vital part of the national recovery from coronavirus, and district councils stand shovel-ready to deliver.

“But we cannot compromise on the quality of new homes and places and sideline public consultation, which we fear will be the consequence of the government’s planning reforms.

“District councils and their local communities continue to grant nine in 10 planning permissions, while tens of thousands of homes with planning permission remain unbuilt – the housing delivery system is broken, not the planning system.

“To tackle the housing crisis, councils need to be given the funding to invest in infrastructure and the powers to build homes that are green, high quality, and affordable.”

Brian Berry, chief executive of the Federation of Master Builders (FMB), said: “The prime minister has said we need to ‘build, build, build’ our way to recovery and a flexible and responsive planning system is essential to deliver this aim. Local small builders have an important role to play in delivering the high-quality homes the country needs but 42 per cent of small builders have difficulty engaging with the planning system. New measures that make the planning system quicker and more affordable are welcome but it is vital that high standards in design and build are not compromised as a result, and that any overhaul doesn’t in fact add further delays.”

3 August 2020
Laura Edgar, The Planner

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