Robert Jenrick 960x640
Jenrick criticised the current planning system and said the reforms are radical and necessary

Reforms ‘unlikely to prompt’ building free-for-all

Dan Whelan

Communities secretary Robert Jenrick described England’s planning system as “outdated and cumbersome” as he detailed policy changes to be published this week to allow some development to get underway without requiring formal approval.

The reforms to simply the system, praised by some of the region’s planning consultants, will see land designated either for growth, renewal or protection, Jenrick wrote in an article published in the Sunday Telegraph this weekend.

Schemes on land designated either for growth, renewal or protection will not require developers to seek planning approval from the relevant local authority, enabling homes, hospitals, schools, shops and offices to be built more quickly. 

Jenrick’s proposed land allocations: 

  • Growth – “Land designated for growth will empower development – new homes, hospitals, schools, shops and offices will be allowed automatically. People can get going” 
  • Renewal – “Areas designated for renewal will enable much quicker development with a ‘permission in principle’ approach to balance speed while ensuring appropriate checks are carried out” 
  • Protected – “Protected land will be just that – our Green Belt, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and rich heritage – will be protected as the places, views and landscapes we cherish most and passed on to the next generation as set out in our manifesto.” 

The reforms aim to streamline what some people consider to be an overcomplicated system and drive economic growth post-Covid-19. However,  some parties have criticised the changes, claiming that they may oversimplify the planning system. 

Tom Fyans, director of policy at rural conservation charity CPRE – formerly the Campaign to Protect Rural England and now known as the countryside charity – said the plans were a “gross oversimplification of the planning system” and expressed concerns the changes could result in the communities’ needs being ignored. 

He said: “The planning process as it stands may not be perfect but instead of deregulating planning, the Government must invest in planning. Quality development needs a quality planning system with community participation at its heart.” 

However, Dan Mitchell, director at planning consultancy Barton Willmore, dismissed talk that the reforms could lead to a development free-for-all. He said the announcement amounted to a move towards “zone-based planning” – a system that could create an “interesting opportunity to build great places”. 

Mitchell said: “It is not going to be a case of ‘easy planning’. There will be all sorts parameters and restrictions in place, set by councils and local people, so developers won’t just be able to build what they want.” 

He said he expected to see councils working more closely with planners to draw up masterplans for specific areas, as a result of Jenrick’s reforms. 

Dan Matthewman, director of Manchester-based consultancy County Planning, said he felt largely positive about the reforms and that fears the system would become too simplistic were likely unfounded.  

“I don’t think it is as simple as it might first seem,” he said. “Several decision-making processes have been replaced with eligibility criteria and prior approval requirements, which still need to be satisfied.  

“It’s a big change and it’s going to have implications for current and future applications that have been in the pipeline for several months, but I think it will largely be effective in moving development forward.”  

Matthewman added that merging some use classes into the same group would make it easier for commercial landlords and tenants that would not have to lodge a change of use application for some new schemes, for example to change from retail to offices in town centres.  

He said: “This additional flexibility should help generate and sustain jobs by helping businesses adapt to the challenges of Covid-19.” 

Both Matthewman and Mitchell said that while the reforms seemed substantial, the extent to which they would impact the planning system would only be known once further details of the reforms are released later this week.  

Roger Tustain, managing director of Nexus Planning, said he had reservations that a zonal planning system would speed up the planning process in the short term.
He said: “Local Plans, or any other statutory planning document, will need to be produced through a democratically inclusive process. Given the powers that these documents will have, the level of detail in terms of policy and design coding will need to be significant to ensure they facilitate socially responsible acceptable development.
“We all know the current Local Plan process is slow, but more detailed Local Plans or Zonal Plans could take considerably longer to produce and lead to extended Local Plan examination processes.”

Your Comments

Read our comments policy here

Planning is by no means perfect BUT it is not the reason for the lack of building..the reason is private developers who have many planning permissions but refuse to build in order to restrict supply to keep sales up and prices high

By George

George….that’s nonsense

By Bday

So Jenrick has outed himself a puppet of the department, a smile in a suit willing to sign off on any policy put before him. London to Liverpool and beyond, permitted development has turned unprotected urban environments into nothing more than cash machines for developers who want maximum returns for minimal effort, and who wreck communities rather than build them.

On top of poor quality development we have also seen astonishing levels of fraud which have hurt the whole country’s reputation.

The Department for Communities response? Make the rules even more lax, and the potential for bad consequences even more far reaching.

Who is pulling the strings in that department?

By Jenny

Must be difficult for the Tories to please both their NIMBY voters and their billionaire developer/house builder donors. If I was them I’d just promise everything to everyone and pass the problem on to local authorities.

By Anonymous

It’s interesting that in countries with stricter planning regulations, such as Denmark, Sweden and The Netherlands, they don’t have the long housing waiting lists and amount of homeless people that we do. They manage to deliver affordable housing, not because their planning policies are relaxed, but because their planning policies mandate for provision of affordable/social housing (and they didn’t sell off all their council housing in the 1980s). What we need is more planning regulation in this country, not less. Developers can’t get away with saying that affordable homes make their projects “unviable” (e.g. takes it under 20% profit margin). The fact that there are thouands of homes WITH PLANNING APPROVAL that haven’t even started construction yet is a very simple way of conveying the fact that it isn’t the planning system standing in the way of development, but the developers themselves and issues in the post-planning process.

By Anonymous

It’ll be interested to see how these reforms impact current Local Plan progress. For example, Liverpool and Wirral have both been notoriously slow in producing a new Local Plan – will this stall things further?

And lets not mention the GMSF…

By Anonymous

I’m all for this if it takes away some burden of Local Council planning departments and allows them to focus on design and matters of detail rather than the principle of development. Like it or not the planning system is a contributor to the country’s housing crisis and it is time that some significant reform is implemented to help redress the balance between the have and have not’s.

By NT

@Gday it’s actually not nonsense. The price paid for land plus construction costs dictate the total cost of a house. If the market price you can ask for dips below the developers costs plus the demanded 20%+ profit margin then they’re not going to build are they? Very little of the cause of delay in building is to do with planning.

By House watch

I wonder, will option agreements, conditional on receipt of planning permission, be made unconditional as a consequence of deemed planning permission, and if so, will house builders have to cough up and buy the land optioned?

By Oh no one