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Planning sector reacts to levelling-up legislation

Words: Huw Morris

Planners are warning ministers that their levelling-up agenda will be compromised as long as the planning system is under-resourced.

The warning came in response to publication of the levelling up and regeneration bill, which puts a commitment to reforming England’s planning system at the heart of the agenda.

“The fact that planning is so central to this bill makes it feel like the profession has been promoted from the Championship to the Premier League,” said RTPI chief executive Victoria Hills. “Government will not be able to realise ambitions for housing delivery, better quality development and tackling regional imbalances without adequate resourcing to the planning system. 

“Only then will the planners be able to help levelling up and regeneration, ensuring the right homes are built in the right places and to the benefit of communities.”

The bill will introduce “street votes” or mini-referendums giving residents the right to allow development, particularly extensions, or replacement of properties within design rules and national policies providing proposals are backed by a “supermajority”.

“This seems to be official confirmation that the planning white paper’s ambition for an entirely new planning system is dead,” said Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) policy director Hugh Ellis.

“The emphasis on community involvement is welcome and I hope it indicates that we will see some serious measures to rebuild public trust. 

“Giving communities a ‘louder’ voice has to be meaningful and go well beyond the very limited impact of ‘street votes’ and the TCPA is pushing for much more significant community rights over all planning decisions and not simply domestic extensions.”

Peter Rainier, principal director of planning at law firm DMH Stallard, said that while the idea of community-led regeneration and “street votes” is  interesting, “what it is not, is some sort of nimby charter but rather a radical proposal for how residents could through agreement increase housing numbers where they live. 

He added: "However, it is difficult to see how increased local involvement will do this. Will residents really be motivated to seek change and regeneration? I doubt it.”

Paul Wakefield, planning partner at law firm Shakespeare Martineau, said the proposal suggests a re-emphasis on localism and “the final nail in the coffin” for many of the reforms proposed in the planning white paper published in August 2020. 

Cartas Jonas planning and development chief Colin Brown criticised the bill’s omission of any reference to the green belt.

“Green belt reform is long overdue, especially in areas where development is constrained unnecessarily by green belt restrictions and young people find it impossible to get on the housing ladder. I firmly champion a review of green belt policy and had hoped that this issue would have made it onto the government’s agenda. 

“Its absence from the bill is disappointing, particularly bearing in mind that it is very often green belt areas which experience the highest and most pressing levels of housing need.”

Image credit | Akin Falope