Legal Indemnity Insurance

Positive planning for the future: is reform around the corner?

As the built environment community waits with bated breath to see whether further planning reforms will be announced, I look at some of the challenges.

There is an increasing need to expedite the delivery of new homes due to the current UK housing shortage. The planning system is struggling under a weight of expectation for reform that needs to resolve issues such as digital transformation, including standardisation of documentation along with an integrated & aligned strategic planning system. Efficiency through technology, the availability of personnel and data standardisation, when combined, present a pressing issue. With many consultants and professionals involved in the process, there is a clear and present need to streamline the language, processes and communications.

Any changes will inevitably require consultants involved in bringing a development through the planning process to adopt a new way of working. As an industry, we are known for innovation but are often slow to adopt new processes and change. However, if the last two years have taught us anything, it is that we are adaptable and resilient. Positive change which may have been met with resistance was achieved owing to the necessity driven by a global pandemic.

The proposed digital reforms have, rightly, firmly placed ESG front and centre of the agenda, with the RTPI highlighting the need for everyone to have the ability to shape their local communities. In turn, this should enable planning officers to review representations to applications. However, the scrapping of the Planning Whitepaper and its subsequent inclusion in the Levelling Up Whitepaper has left a vacuum in terms of policy guidance, which continues to affect the progress of the planning system and in particular the development of Local Plans.

What does this mean for you?

Speeding up the planning process can only be a good thing. For a developer, several years spent bringing a development forward to application has a huge number of challenges, including the burden of funding and investment requirements. Forward funding is reliant upon managing various legal risks, which can all be affected over the course of a multi-year project with potential changes in case law, political change within planning committees, escalating Section 106 obligations, and (particularly relevant in the current climate) increasing costs of labour and materials. This may stifle development and lead to uncertainty in delivering government housing targets. The manifesto from the RTPI makes it clear that by standardising language and processes in the system, it will allow for easy sharing of planning information between all stakeholders.

Sam Cherry, sales director at Legal & Contingency commented:

“Planning underpins the legal indemnity policies we create and therefore the challenges faced by our clients directly impacts the solutions we provide. It has long been established that there is chronic underfunding in the planning system and the Government needs to ‘grasp the nettle’, to streamline the processes and enable delivery of the residential and commercial built environment aspirations and expectations, rather than watering down its approach.”

What the planning system needs more than anything right now is certainty. The current state of flux will only ensure increased costs at a time when the construction market is seeing its profits squeezed. Certainty will enable developers to adapt accordingly to whatever the new planning landscape will look like. If reforms are successful in speeding up the delivery process in order to meet targets, developers will also need to assess whether the financial benefits of shorter timeframes for delivery will be offset by the increasing requirements being imposed for ESG.

To find out more please contact Sam Cherry, sales director sam.cherry@legal-contingency.co.uk or Amanda Armitage, business development manager amanda.armitage@legal-contingency.co.uk.

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