It has been more than two years since the UK Government issued a Planning White Paper – in August 2020 – which was supposed to provide a foundation for a reformed, simplified, and sped-up planning process. 

Now, however, the UK’s Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities – Michael Gove – has been forced into retreat on his planning reform proposals by a rebellion in the ranks of his own governing Conservative Party. 

What has happened to the planning reform plans? 

Theresa Villiers MP – a former environment and Northern Ireland minister – put forward amendments to the Government’s Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill that attracted the support of more than 60 backbenchers. 

In response, Mr Gove issued a letter on 5th December addressed to “all MPs”, in which he outlined various changes to his previous proposals, ostensibly to “place local communities at the heart of the planning system.” 

Fears have been voiced, however, that the changes could spell bad news for both the development sector and would-be home buyers. 

In his letter to MPs, Mr Gove set out an approach that he said would be included “in the upcoming National Planning Policy Framework prospectus, which will be put out for consultation by Christmas.” 

Highlights of his latest proposals included: 

    • Retaining a method for calculating local housing need figures, but consulting on changes which would propose housing numbers as merely an advisory starting point, instead of mandatory. It would then be the responsibility of local authorities, working with their communities, to determine the numbers of homes that could actually be built 
    • Pledging to “instruct the Planning Inspectorate that they should no longer override sensible local decision-making, which is sensitive to and reflects local constraints and concerns” 
    • Changing the “soundness” test to take away the need for Local Plans to be “justified” – this meaning that “there will be a lower bar for assessment, and LPAs (Local Planning Authorities) will no longer have to provide disproportionate amounts of evidence to argue their case” 
    • Ending the obligation on LPAs to maintain a rolling five-year supply of land for housing where their plans are up to date 
    • Consulting on scrapping the requirement for a 20% buffer, as is currently added for both plan making and decision making for reasons of flexibility 
  • Increasing “community protections afforded by a neighbourhood plan against developer appeals – increasing those protections from two years to five years” 
  • Ensuring that developers build out the schemes which already have planning permission, and holding developers accountable. Mr Gove said he would consult on enabling LPAs to refuse planning applications from developers that have built slowly in the past
  • Consulting on “the best way of addressing” what the minister described as “irresponsible developers and landowners who persistently ignore planning rules and fail to deliver their legal commitments to the community”. He said that this could include “giving LPAs the power to stop developers getting permissions”. 

Highways and transportation issues are often the first concerns raised when consulting local communities about new housing in their area, some of these concerns are valid, others are inaccurate and some are used with the aim of stifling development proposals. Unfortunately, by watering down housing targets, removing local authorities’ obligation to a five year housing supply and removing the need for local plans to be justified, inevitably more weight will be put onto highways concerns, whether valid or not, in order to reduce any advisory housing targets. It is therefore imperative that developers and house builders ensure they procure robust highways advice. Transport Planning Associates (TPA), has always provided robust advice to our clients, we have a proven track record of successfully delivering and enabling residential developments,   helping our clients gain planning permission through the application of sound transport planning, engineering solutions and stake holder engagement. 

We wish readers of our blog a pleasant festive season and a happy New Year when 2023 does arrive. In the meantime, if you wish to receive further specialised advice and support in relation to various aspects of transport planning and the detailed design of infrastructure, please do not hesitate to contact your nearest TPA office.