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06/07/2021

Jenrick: Planning reforms will give councillors power over what and where to build

Words: Laura Edgar
Robert Jenrick at the LGA annual conference / Laura Edgar

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick has said that the intent of the proposed planning reforms is to give councillors the control over what to build and extend participation in the planning system to everyone from a smartphone.

Speaking at the Local Government Association's (LGA) annual conference, he also said the proposals, to be brought forward later this year, will be “council led”.

Jenrick doesn’t believe that the planning system needs to be ripped up, just improved. To do this, he hopes national and local governments can work across the party political divide “to ensure that the system, that is at times slow and bureaucratic with poor outcomes, and has a low level of public trust, can be improved for everyone's benefit”.

The proposals, he continued, will modernise the planning system and also take into account government commitments to net-zero and the environment.

The proposals will be ‘council led” and “emphasise plans more than ever before’.

Local authorities will be required to have up-to-date local plans and it will be for councils to determine how to provide the homes their areas need.

“The reforms will provide greater certainty over what development is permitted and where through clear land allocations in local plans. They will also say where we don’t want to see houses built and what we as communities want to protect, including precious green spaces, the green belt, national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty and SSSIs [Sites of Special Scientific Interest].”

The reforms, he told councils and councillors, will replace “complex and quite opaque” section 106 agreements with “much more predictable transparent levies” that will be locally set. They will be locally levied with greater flexibility for councils to determine how they’re spent, which Jenrick says will ensure that more land value uplift is captured for public good.

The government also wishes for the reforms to “tip the balance” in favour of the small builder and local entrepreneur. “We want a system which will enable small builders and new entrants to navigate with confidence, creating a far more diverse and competitive housing and construction industry.”

Jenrick explained to the audience that local people will be able to see what is happening in their area at the “swipe of a smartphone” which will reconnect them to a planning system “that truly serves them”.

“In short, our aim is to give councillors control over what to build; replace jargon-laden and technical documents running to thousands of pages with readily understandable, easy-to-navigate, succinct assessments; create design codes and masterplans reflecting the genuine preferences of communities; and extend participation to everyone from a smartphone.”

What else did the housing secretary say?

Jenrick says the government wants every local authority to produce a 10 or 20-year plan for their town or city, and for the “government to work with you in a genuinely place-based way”.

He wants MHCLG to be councils’ first port of call, their champion within the government, “so that you're not simply working with us on housing or on local government, and then with the Department of Transport on transport and education on education and skills and health, on health and health inequalities”.

“But together, we take a place-based approach, which will be able to yield the greatest results and enable you to lead that plan for the future of your area.”

To that end, he reaffirmed that the levelling-up white paper will be published later this year to set out these plans in more detail and “talk about how we can take devolution forwards with that spirit of localism at its heart”.

In the Q&A, the housing secretary was asked about virtual or remote planning meetings.

He explained that he has just received the first summary of the responses to a call for evidence about remote meetings, which found that there was “overwhelming” support for them restarting.

The department will collate more formal analysis but “the message does seem to be clear, from the sector at least, that you would like the power for them to continue, which means that I will need to redouble my efforts to secure us parliamentary time for the piece of legislation that will be needed to do that”.

Image credit | Laura Edgar, taken of the LGA conference plenary session on day 1

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