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Budget 2016: Planning reaction

Words: Laura Edgar
Planning / iStock_000035898050

A number of measures were included in yesterday’s Budget to streamline the planning system. Here, The Planner takes a look at what the industry thinks about the proposals.

Little detail of plans


Although the RTPI welcomed in principle measures to boost housing, build infrastructure and extend devolution deals, the institute’s president Phil Williams said it is “absolutely crucial” that local planning services are invested in to help the government deliver what it has announced.

Talking about the move towards a more zonal planning approach, Williams said it is one the RTPI wants to discuss with ministers “as little detail of what might be planned was published” in the Budget 2016.

“The RTPI is interested to know more about what is meant specifically by a more zonal planning system in the context of England's plan-led system. We have already written seeking clarification as to whether this represents new proposals or ones currently with Parliament and out for consultation," said Williams.

Zonal approach could be wide-reaching


Announcements related to planning in the Budget 2016 “largely continue” the narrative that has been building during this Parliament, according to Jason Lowes, partner at property and planning consultancy Rapleys. It is likely they will “be seen in this light”.

Lowes continued: “The chancellor’s announcement of a move towards a more zonal planning system has the potential to be wide-ranging, though when push comes to shove, we may not see wholesale change in practice. Many of the proposals seem to be already in place - for instance, it is obviously a fairly basic planning principle that local authorities should use local plans to signal their development strategy.”

Having said that, Lowes added that developers will no doubt welcome further plans to streamline the planning process.

“Effective and timely delivery of development schemes will further encourage investment, growth and jobs - particularly if the chancellor’s proposals can focus on commercial property development as a priority alongside residential,” he concluded.

An alien principle


Simon Elliott, part of Bidwells’ planning team, said that possibly the most significant proposal is the move towards a zoning approach to planning with local plans to make the maximum use of permission in principle.

“This is currently a rather alien concept to the UK. Given the time it currently takes for a local plan to achieve adoption, this rather radical step that will place even greater scrutiny on local plans is quite surprising. If it can be made to work, however, it is likely to empower small and medium-sized developers and thus improve the supply of housing in the longer term,” said Elliott.

The loser is likely to be quality of place


The government’s proposal to ensure pre-commencement planning conditions can only be imposed with the agreement of the developer, Andrew Wintersgill, partner at town planning consultancy David Lock Associates, told The Planner.

This should accelerate starts on sites, he explained, as well minimise unnecessary conditions.

Additionally, setting deadlines for the secretary of state to decide recovered appeals and called-in applications, “should reduce delivery delays on major schemes, as well as foreshortening uncertainty while those decisions are awaited”, said Wintersgill.

His colleague, Lawrence Revil, said the resources and capacity available to planning authorities seems to “diminish in inverse proportion to the complexity of the system they manage”.

“Now much of the planning emphasis in the Budget seems to be aimed at simplifying and streamlining the planning system so that it better matches that limited resources and capacity available,” Revil explained.

The loser here, for Revil, is likely to the “quality of places that we can create where everything is reduced to the lowest common denominator”.

“Einstein said ‘everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.’ Will it be long before we cross that Rubicon?” asked Revil.

Concern planning application burned will increase


Although Nexus Planning supports the government’s commitment to streamline the planning system to reduce delays, associate director Dominick Veasey said: “We question the effectiveness of legislating for the use of pre-commencement planning conditions only where there is agreement from the developer. As good practice, all parties should seek to actively reduce the need for and application of pre-commencement conditions given the delay and uncertainty they impose on implementation and development delivery.”

Nexus Planning is concerned that “planning application information burden will increase” as local councils delay decision-making until the information – which Veasey explained was previously the subject of pre-commencement conditions – has been submitted.

“From our experience, the government-proposed Section 106 dispute resolution mechanism has the potential to have a far greater impact on reducing delays on the ground.”

An overview of the planning measures announced in the Budget 2016 can be found here.

Budget 2016 can be found here.

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