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Proposal for a zonal planning system could be dropped, reports suggest

Words: Laura Edgar
Zonal planning / Shutterstock_64270195

Elements of the government's plans to reform England's planning system could be dropped, according to media reports.

Published in August 2020, the government's planning white paper Planning for the Future set out how the government wanted to make the planning system fit for purpose. 

At the time, housing secretary Robert Jenrick said the reforms would "lay the foundations for a brighter future, providing more homes for young people and creating better-quality neighbourhoods and homes across the country".

Proposals include zoning areas for either growth, renewal or protection. RTPI chief executive Victoria Hills said when the white paper was published that the proposals for zonal planning were “rather simplistic”.

Now though, The Times reports that the government is now likely to drop these proposals for a zonal system, as well as mandatory local housing targets. Community opportunities for engaging with planning applications would be cut under the reforms. The paper does not cite its sources.

The proposals have been criticised by Conservative MPs, as well as voters, in the south of England. Some Conservative MPs, notes the paper, were concerned that the party lost the Chesham and Amersham by-election in June to the Liberal Democrats due to the reforms. 

Colin Brown, head of planning & development at Carter Jonas, commented: “Political manoeuvring appears to be hindering progress in ensuring a step-change in the delivery of new housing. We have repeatedly been promised radical reform to level the foundations and build 'from the ground up, a whole new planning system for England,' with the right homes built in the right places, supporting existing employment and future growth. And yet, if the latest reports are correct, it seems proposals that were supposed to be unlike anything we have seen since the second world war are to be forfeited to appease political dissent. This cannot be what the Government had in mind when it published its vision in Planning for the Future only last August.”

Tom Fyans, deputy chief executive at countryside charity CPRE, said:  "The devil will be in the detail, but it looks as though some of the most damaging proposals of what was a top-down developers’ charter have been rightly binned. However, the government must not shy away from overhauling a tired planning system to make it fit for the multiple challenges of the 21st century.

"Local communities need a stronger right to be heard in local decisions; brownfield sites must automatically be developed first to help protect local green spaces and our green belts in the fight against climate change; and young people and key workers desperately need more funding for rural affordable homes.

"This decision by ministers is a victory for common sense and local campaigners all across the country who just wanted a proper say on the needs of their communities and how their area should be developed."

Claire Petricca-Riding, head of planning and environment at Irwin Mitchell, said: "Given that we have spent the summer in anticipation for the planning bill to be announced, it comes as no surprise the government is reversing the decision to push ahead with its radical 'once in a generation'reform of the ‘broken’ planning system. There has been a lot of tinkering over the last 18 months since Robert Jenrick was on his feet in the House of Commons,  such as the introduction of Class E and the extension to the permitted development rights, but the change in planning to make it more controlled by central government, taking away the powers of the local community to voice concerns has not gone down well with core Conservative voters.”  

Image credit | Shutterstock