Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has proposed an overhaul of the planning system he calls “outdated and complex” in order to build homes faster and regenerate High Streets.
He blames the current planning system, which has been in place since 1947, for the fact that only 117,000 houses were built in the UK last year. It was the highest number for the last 11 years, but short of the Conservative election manifesto promise to build 300,000 new homes a year in “the areas that really need them,” and the 1.2m houses activists say are required.
Writing in the Sunday Telegraph ahead of consultations to be launched next week, Robert Jenrick said that the new process will be done through a democratic local agreement, which will make it more “clear cut, and cut out the red tape.”
Complex and outdated
He added: “For too long home ownership has remained out of reach for too many, as a complex and outdated planning system has failed to keep up with the needs of our country.
“I am completely overhauling the system so we can build more good quality, attractive and affordable homes faster – and more young families can finally have the key to their own home.”
He also discussed plans for a “digital transformation” that will allow people to see planning in their area via “digital maps.”
In his piece in the Telegraph, Robert Jenrick writes: “During lockdown many readers will have spent more time at home than ever before; a home can be a haven, that provides financial security, roots in a community and a place that a family can call their own.
“But our country’s outdated and cumbersome planning system has contributed to a generational divide between those who own property and those who don’t. Half as many 16-34 year olds own their own homes, compared to those aged 35-64.
“While house prices have soared since the Millennium, with England seeing an increase at one of the fastest rates in Europe, our complex and slow planning system has been a barrier to building homes which are affordable, where families want to raise children and build their lives.
“It’s resulted in delays to vital infrastructure projects that come with new housing. Communities are missing out on new hospitals, new schools and improved roads and restrictions have left derelict buildings as eyesores and empty shops on our high streets, instead of helping them to adapt and evolve.”
Under the new regulations which are planned to be introduced in September, land will be divided into three categories; for growth, renewal, and protected land. Land for growth would allow homes, hospitals and GP surgeries to be built “automatically” if local councils deem it necessary, while in renewal areas, building plans in mostly existing urban areas would get “permission in principle”, to speed up the process while allowing for appropriate checks for new housing developments, and in order to restore UK High Streets.
New developments would be banned on protected land such as the Green Belt and areas of outstanding national beauty.
The new approach to the planning system would work through an interactive and accessible map-based online system designed to “place planning at the fingertips.”
Under current rules, it takes an average of five years for a “standard housing development” to go through the planning system, according to Mr Jenrick.
But the reforms will mean land designated for new homes, hospitals, schools, shops and offices will get automatic permission for firms to start building.
These types of properties will fall under the “for growth” category, meaning work will be able to start on the land straight away.
Robert Jenrick said: “We are reforming the planning system and cutting out unnecessary bureaucracy to give small business owners the freedom they need to adapt and evolve, and to renew our town centres with new enterprises and more housing.
“These changes will help transform boarded-up, unused buildings safely into high quality homes at the heart of their communities. It will mean that families can add up to two storeys to their home, providing much needed additional space for children or elderly relatives as their household grows.”
Pubs, libraries, village shops and other buildings essential to communities will not be covered by these flexibilities.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) will now launch a consultation process before setting out a timeline for the changes.
Commenting on the Planning Today website, Crispin Truman, chief executive of planning charity CPRE, said: “The housing secretary is absolutely right to highlight the mounting pressure on Green Belt and greenfield sites and we welcome the focus on urban regeneration to relieve that pressure – the closest the government has come to adopting the all-out ‘brownfield first policy’ that we desperately need.
“But there remain major concerns over the quality of housing and other developments being delivered.
“Our evidence has shown that three-quarters of housing developments should not have been granted planning permission due to poor or mediocre design quality. Further deregulation as proposed here, would only make the problem worse.
“Given the amount of time we are spending at home and in our local areas, it has never been more important to deliver better quality homes and green spaces.
“That’s why we’re urging the government to keep planning local. Communities need to have more of a say in planning for local homes and places.”
And James Jamieson, chairman of the Local Government Association, argued that more than a million homes are waiting to be built in England alone, despite having been given planning permission.
He told the BBC: “Nine in 10 planning applications are approved by councils. Only last week the government’s own independent report warned of the worse quality of homes not delivered through the planning system.
“We urge the government to heed these warnings and not further sideline the planning process.”
There may be some reassurance in Robert Jenrick’s reference to John Ruskin in his Telegraph piece. He writes: “John Ruskin said that we must build and when we do let us think that we build forever. That will be guiding principle as we set out the future of the planning system.
“New developments will be beautiful places, not just collections of buildings. Good design is the best antidote to local objections to building.
“We will build environmentally friendly homes that will not need to be expensively retrofitted in the future, homes with green spaces and new parks at close hand, where tree lined streets are provided for in law, where neighbours are not strangers.”
Robert Jenrick’s announcement came after Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged £5bn to “build, build, build,” to create more affordable homes and boost Britain’s economy after the coronavirus crisis.
Robert Jenrick’s intention in relaxing the planning system he calls “outdated and complex” would be to create millions of new jobs in the home building and construction sector and help soften the economic impact of COVID-19, as sectors such as High Street retail and hospitality continue to struggle to regenerate.