Are government planning reforms the answer to the housing crisis?

New government planning reforms mentioned in the Queen’s speech in May are designed to make the planning process quicker and more streamlined. However there has been criticism from the construction sector, local authorities and the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee, a cross party committee of MPs. In this article we look at the new planning reforms and whether they will help to achieve required levels of new affordable housing whilst meeting sustainability goals.

Why are planning reforms needed?

The planning system has not been significantly changed since 1947. But with figures showing that only 192,725 of the governments targeted new homes being built last year and it taking on average 5 years for a standard housing development to go through the system under current rules, it is clear change is needed.

What is being proposed by the new planning reforms?

Last summer the government published a Planning for the Future white paper. The planning bill further builds on this by outlining three areas to streamline the planning system and help to increase the availability of affordable housing in the UK.
The controversial traffic light system of zone planning would force councils to classify land as either growth, renewal or protection. For growth areas land will receive automatic planning permission, urban renewal areas will be granted permission in principle. In effect, this new scheme will make it difficult for new housing schemes to be blocked by either councils or homeowners.
The end of section 106 has also proved controversial. This is a legal agreement between councils and developer’s which is supposed to mitigate the impact of the new development on the community and infrastructure, it can be used for example to fund affordable housing as well as roads, parks and youth services. Section 106 will be replaced by a new planning levy of which details are yet to be released. It aims to make developer contributions more predictable and transparent.
A move to a digital planning system is aimed at not only speeding up applications but also allowing residents to be more engaged in the development of their local area.

So, what is the problem with the new proposals?

Whilst the proposals seem like a good idea as a way of speeding up the planning process allowing for more affordable housing to be built. It will also give local residents and councils less control over development in their communities.

Environmental concerns are a big issue with more than 100 business leaders writing to Boris Johnson warning that the plans to open up protected land for development would put the UK in breach of legally binding environmental targets. It stated the importance of the planning system being part of a high-level plan to cut carbon emissions by 78% by 2035 and reach net zero by 2050 and criticised the lack of reference to sustainability in the whitepaper. It also outlined concerns that the increased speed for the planning process could come at the cost of net zero, biodiversity and community involvement.

A report published by the House of commons housing, communities and local government select committee, a cross party group has criticised the proposed bill, calling for a rethink. Concerns were raised over whether local authorities had the resources to implement the reforms suggesting that an additional 125million was needed. On the three areas approach they suggested that additional categories would be required with question also been raised about local plans and vital infrastructure. On the Section 106 proposal, the MPs suggest that it should be preserved to protect the availability of affordable housing in the UK.

What does the new planning bill mean for flood resilience?

Several organisations have expressed concerns that the new planning bill could lead to homes being built in areas of flood risk. In a joint letter to the government Flood Re and the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) requested that new homes are built in the right places and of the right quality to meet the challenges of climate change and not developed inappropriately in areas at risk of flooding. Also, that communities have a legal right to feed in their local expertise and have their voices heard in planning decisions that affect risk in their areas.

As with so many issues that we face as a society, there are several stakeholders with opposing needs and views. The government needs to find a solution to build back better by finding a balance between local communities, those in need of affordable housing whilst minimising the impact on the environment.