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‘Once in a generation reforms’ look to overhaul ‘barrier to building’

by Jennie Ward

Planning for the future consultation outlines plans to tackle “the country’s outdated planning system” and “overhaul the way the country builds”, but whilst the Housing Secretary says “we will cut red tape, but not standards”, the FMB is clear “any shake-up must not compromise the quality of the homes built.”

“An overhaul of the country’s outdated planning system that will deliver the high-quality, sustainable homes communities need” was announced by Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick today (6th August) as he launched the Planning for the future consultation, which has been described as “the most significant reforms to housing policy in decades.”

The Housing Secretary Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP.

A statement from Government explains that the “landmark changes will transform a system that has long been criticised for being too sluggish in providing housing for families, key workers and young people, and too ineffectual in obligating developers to properly fund the infrastructure – such as schools, roads and GP surgeries – to support them.”

The announcement says the reforms outlined in Planning for the future will allow for more building on brownfield land so valued green space and Green Belt will continue to be protected, and “local community agreement will be at the centre of the proposals being put forward.”

The announcement says the reforms will be a major boost for SME builders “who will be key players in getting the country building on the scale needed to drive our economic recovery”, but at the moment it says these builders are “currently cut off by the planning process”, and this is highlighted by the fact that “the proportion of new homebuilding they (SME builders) lead on” has “dropped from 40% 30 years ago to just 12% today.”

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick explained: “Our complex planning system has been a barrier to building the homes people need; it takes 7 years to agree local housing plans and 5 years just to get a spade in the ground.

“These once in a generation reforms will lay the foundations for a brighter future, providing more homes for young people and creating better quality neighbourhoods and homes across the country. We will cut red tape, but not standards, placing a higher regard on quality, design and the environment than ever before. Planning decisions will be simple and transparent, with local democracy at the heart of the process.

“As we face the economic effects of the pandemic, now is the time for decisive action and a clear plan for jobs and growth. Our reforms will create thousands of jobs, lessen the dominance of big builders in the system, providing a major boost for small building companies across the country.”

The reforms will mean:

  • Local communities will be consulted from the very beginning of the planning process. By harnessing the latest technology through online maps and data, the whole system will be made more accessible
  • Valued green spaces will be protected for future generations by allowing for more building on brownfield land and all new streets to be tree lined
  • Much-needed homes will be built quicker by ensuring local housing plans are developed and agreed in 30 months – down from the current 7 years
  • Every area to have a local plan in place – currently only 50% of local areas has a plan to build more homes
  • The planning process to be overhauled and replaced with a clearer, rules based system. Currently around a third of planning cases that go to appeal are overturned at appeal
  • A new simpler national levy to replace the current system of developer contributions which often causes delay
  • The creation of a fast-track system for beautiful buildings and establishing local design guidance for developers to build and preserve beautiful communities
  • All new homes to be ‘zero carbon ready’, with no new homes delivered under the new system needed to be retrofitted as we achieve our commitment to net zero carbon emissions by 2050

Whilst welcoming the reforms and “the much needed opportunity to speed up the planning process and help diversify the housing market”, the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) cautioned that “any shake-up must not compromise the quality of the homes built.”

Brian Berry, Chief Executive of the FMB.

Brian Berry, Chief Executive of the FMB, said: “Local, small builders are ready and waiting to play their part in delivering the homes, jobs, and growth we need if we are to ‘build, build, build’ our way to recovery. But the increasing complexities and costs of the planning system in England have held them back. Alongside struggles to access affordable land, 64% of developing small builders cite the planning system as the biggest barrier they face.”

Berry concluded: “We need a simpler and more responsive planning system, but I am clear that this shouldn’t compromise the quality of the homes that are built. Master Builders compete on quality, not on price, and have an important role to play in a more diverse housing market. We must also ensure local planning authorities are supported to respond to these changes, so that any shake-up doesn’t lead to further short-term delays in applications. If we get this right, making it easier for SME house builders to play a role will help support jobs, provide training opportunities for apprentices, and lead to higher quality, green homes that are fit for the future.”

Following the publication of Planning for the future, the government will now consult with planners, lawyers and local government experts on the proposals, as well as interest groups and residents.

Read the full announcement here.

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