LGA submission to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government: Planning for the Future White Paper

About the Local Government Association

The Local Government Association (LGA) is the national voice of local government. We are a politically-led, cross party membership organisation, representing councils from England and Wales.

Our role is to support, promote and improve local government, and raise national

awareness of the work of councils. Our ultimate ambition is to support councils to deliver local solutions to national problems.

The LGA welcomes the opportunity to respond to this consultation on the Planning White Paper. We have also responded to the consultation on Changes to the current planning system and our submission is available on our website.

Key messages

  1. The Planning for the Future White Paper proposes a fundamental review of the existing planning system, requiring changes to primary and secondary legislation. We share the Government’s aspirations for an efficient, well-resourced planning system that supports local involvement in designing, planning and creating great places for current and future generations. To succeed in meeting these challenges the planning system needs to be transparent, fit for purpose, and accessible to all. 
     
  2. Local government is ready to work with the Government to achieve these objectives. However, the current proposals lack the detail that is needed for full debate and comment. This lack of detail means that there are wide-ranging concerns about how the proposals will work in practice. Whilst we recognise the Government’s aspiration to improve the current system, without addressing many of the detailed issues, there is a significant risk that proposed changes could have a detrimental effect on the planning system. We have the opportunity to take the time needed to make improvements to the planning system. Conversely, if we get this wrong, the impacts will last generations, and some will be irreversible. We want to work together with the Government to get any changes to the planning system right.
     
  3. The evidence demonstrates that with nine in 10 planning applications approved by councils, and more than a million homes given planning permission in the last decade not yet built, planning is not the problem. There is also land for more than one million homes already allocated in Local Plans which developers have not yet brought forward to planning application stage. The White Paper provides no evidence that the planning system is responsible for holding up the build out of developments.
     
  4. As we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic we need stability and certainty in planning, supported by the appropriate resourcing. Only a locally-led planning system in which councils and the communities they represent have a say over the way places develop will ensure the delivery of high-quality affordable homes with the necessary infrastructure to create sustainable, resilient places for current and future generations. Of particular concern is how to ensure that there is full community involvement in planning, and that there is a strong focus not just on housing numbers and speed of delivery, but on developing sustainable communities that includes a much wider remit. This includes job creation, economic development, tackling climate change, improving biodiversity and infrastructure delivery. Councils also need to have the tools, powers and flexibilities required to plan for and deliver great places.
     
  5. The focus of the White Paper proposals, in contrast, appears to be on housebuilding and speed. There is little consideration given to the many roles planning and local planning authorities undertake together with their communities to facilitate, create, revitalise, and make great places. There is also no detail about how planning for other local priorities, for example employment or infrastructure provision, will align with housing delivery. We recognise the need to increase delivery of more types and tenures of homes where they are needed, but there are other areas of focus which the White Paper is all but silent on including: connectivity; accessibility; health and wellbeing; access to green spaces; access to schools and jobs; and climate resilience.
     
  6. The pandemic has highlighted stark inequalities within our society. This is especially so in health outcomes due in part to poor quality housing and a lack of access to services and green space. Research commissioned by the Government prior to the pandemic revealed that when a locally-led planning approach is removed allowing for nationally prescribed permitted development rights, the outcome has been poorer quality homes and places.
     
  7. Communities are spending more time in their own neighbourhoods and at home and understand their needs now better than ever. They have clear, strong ambitions for their local recovery, development and long-term prosperity. Contrary to the White Paper’s suggestion, public trust in councils is at an all-time high. During the pandemic, under challenging circumstances, local authorities have shown their agility and adaptability, continuing to engage with and support their communities. This reinforces how vital it is that councils and the communities represent are empowered to shape how their areas develop.
     
  8. Local democratic oversight and community engagement are critical factors in ensuring trust and transparency in planning decisions and all aspects of the planning system. The narrative throughout the White Paper is about increasing public engagement in the planning process. However, the proposals appear to limit rather than enhance engagement. Genuine public engagement will leave a community with an agreed understanding about how, where, and what type of increased capacity will meet their future needs. We are concerned that as drafted the proposals will lead to a loss of local democracy, with councillors and communities being cut out of the process and a reduced ability to have a say on individual planning applications. There is a high risk that communities will not easily engage in the new way proposed in the White Paper. In addition, local planning authorities may not have the resources to carry out the meaningful community engagement critical to achieving good planning outcomes with this new approach.
     
  9. A wholesale overhaul of the existing system and change to a new system will create uncertainty and take many years to deliver and implement across all of Whitehall and the planning sector. Constant changes to national planning policy over successive Government administrations have undermined councils’ critical role in placemaking. Austerity measures have further cut vital resources for council staff and capacity necessary to lead on and carry out this work. We need to ensure any reforms build stability and certainty into the system, are supported by the necessary resources, and give communities the ability to plan for their local areas.
     
  10. Any discussion about changes to the planning system need to take a joined up, whole of Government approach if it is to deliver on its aspirations. This means recognising and accounting for changes to other relevant legislation such as the Environment Bill and the forthcoming Devolution White Paper. In the absence of any clear national strategy for long-term recovery it is unclear how these proposals will fit into a wider approach for supporting England as we move forward.
     
  11. We support the shift to a more digitalisation planning system that makes the planning system more accessible and efficient. Councils will need the appropriate resourcing to lead on this step-change and issues of digital exclusion will need to be addressed to ensure all residents can engage in the planning process. The planning process and timeframes need to allow the time and resources required to undertake a mix of genuine forms of engagement where the digital approach is either not the best, or not a possible option. Councils should have the flexibility to determine the most appropriate way of engaging with the public that provide easier and more cost-effective ways of finding out about for example planning applications and planning decisions. 
     
  12. The international examples on which the proposals in the White Paper are based do not demonstrate how they would work in practice when applied to the English planning system. The strategic planning approaches and frameworks that underpin these other systems have neither been discussed nor considered in any real depth to give any confidence that they provide a better approach.  
     
  13. Proposals such as the new Growth/Renewal/Protect areas are still very unclear, and a shift from a discretionary to rule-based system lacks robust justification. To work with these as drafted would require early engagement with members of the public. However, genuinely constructive public engagement will take longer than the proposed timeframes for completing Local Plans. We acknowledge that the Local Plan system does however need to be simplified and tightened up to reduce the scope for appeals. But without the detail the White Paper provides little evidence that the proposed changes will support the ambition for a more efficient, simplified and democratic system that will achieve better planning outcomes.
     
  14. As we move into economic recovery, developers also need to have the confidence to invest. A programme of radical planning reforms likely to roll out over many years will likely lead to uncertainty and delays to investment.
     
  15. It is crucial that if we are to build more homes to higher standards that there are incentives (and penalties) to ensure developers and landowners build out their permissions and allocations to the high standards we all aspire for. We are disappointed that the White Paper does not include measures to incentivise developers to bring allocated sites forward in a timely manner or build out homes when planning permission has been granted. Councils need the tools to encourage/oblige developers to build out sites with permission in a swift and timely manner.
     
  16. As an absolute minimum, any replacement for Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) and Section 106 development contributions should aim to capture at least the same amount of value as the existing system at an individual local authority level, rather than a national figure. However, if the Government is serious about improving the existing land value capture mechanisms, any new model should strive to deliver a significant uplift in the amount of value, compared to the current system, to provide greater investment to fund the required infrastructure and affordable homes that areas need. It is crucial that local government is involved in the design of any new system for securing developer contributions.
     
  17. Local government plays a vital role in leading the way to address climate change, reduce carbon emissions, and create the sustainable places we need. Many councils have ambitious climate targets and plans in place to achieve net zero carbon before the Government’s 2050 target. However, the White Paper misses the opportunity to propose the improvements and strategic interventions needed to support our shift to a carbon neutral future. 
     
  18. Planning fees do not cover the true cost of processing applications. Taxpayers currently subsidise the cost at a rate of nearly £180 million a year.[5] Councils need the ability to recover the costs of processing applications through locally-set fees. Planning departments need greater resourcing. Between 2010-11 and 2017-18 there was a 37.9 per cent fall in net current expenditure on planning functions and planning departments. This significantly reduces their capacity to ensure the delivery of new housing through the planning process and enable the new supply of housing and appropriate infrastructure.
     
  19. In addition, analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) found that COVID-19 has put local government under significant fiscal pressure with councils potentially needing another £2 billion this year to meet all the pressures and non-tax income losses, with the potential to rise to £3.1 billion. This excludes further funding needed to cover local tax losses and one-off costs incurred to respond to the pandemic. The IFS’s upper estimates suggest a potential funding gap as high as £9.8 billion by 2023/24.
     
  20. Whilst the White Paper identifies a skills strategy for local authorities, there is no detail regarding how this will be resourced. There is considerable concern from councils about their already stretched capacity. Councils will need the necessary resources to upskill officers to undertake the transition process locally and then implement the new planning regime over many years. Planning affects other areas of council business, and any changes to the system will have impacts well beyond planning departments and across all council operations as a whole.
     
  21. There are opportunities to improve the current planning system, and local government is best equipped and prepared to work with the Government on any changes to the planning system to ensure that it achieves shared aspirations.

Pillar One - Planning for Development (Questions 1-14)

Q1. What three words do you associate most with the planning system in England?

The planning system must be locally led, fair and democratic, flexible, and adequately funded in order to be effective.  


Q2. Do you get involved with planning decisions in your local area?

[Yes / No]

N/A to LGA. The LGA is a national member organisation and we do not get involved in local planning decisions.


Q2(a). If no, why not?

[Don’t know how to / It takes too long / It’s too complicated / I don’t care / Other – please specify]

N/A to LGA. The LGA is a national member organisation and we do not get involved in local planning decisions.


Q3. Our proposals will make it much easier to access plans and contribute your views to planning decisions. How would you like to find out about plans and planning proposals in the future?

[Social media / Online news / Newspaper / By post / Other – please specify]

N/A to LGA.

Local authorities are best placed, through engagement with their communities, to make decisions about the most appropriate method for their residents to access plans and contribute to planning decisions. 


Q4. What are your top three priorities for planning in your local area?

[Building homes for young people / building homes for the homeless / Protection of green spaces / The environment, biodiversity and action on climate change / Increasing the affordability of housing / The design of new homes and places / Supporting the high street / Supporting the local economy / More or better local infrastructure / Protection of existing heritage buildings or areas / Other – please specify]

N/A to LGA. Local authorities together with their communities are best placed to make decisions about what their priorities for planning are.


Q5. Do you agree that Local Plans should be simplified in line with our proposals?

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

Whilst we support the general principle of simplifying the current process for getting Local Plans in place, we do not support the proposals in the consultation (Proposal 1). Certainty in planning is critical to signal to communities and developers what development will happen in their area. However, there is no evidence in the consultation that the proposal will lead to the kind of certainty that is needed in the planning system. In addition, we do not support the Government’s proposals for a simplified approach that removes or reducing democratic input later in the decision-making process.  

There are however a number of key areas where we think there is scope to make changes to the current plan-making process to make it less costly, faster and provide more clarity for councils, communities and the development industry. The Government should consider reducing the burden of Local Plan evidence by reviewing the extent of current evidence being collected and looking at how this might be streamlined.

Alongside this, consideration should be given to sufficiently resourcing the Planning Inspectorate to enable them to provide early stage reviews of draft plans and advise on the level of evidence required. The Government should also remove the continuing requirement for councils to be able to demonstrate a five-year supply of land. One of the significant contributory factors to delays in getting Local Plans in place has been the numerous top-down planning changes since the introduction of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

The LGA has long argued that constant top-down piecemeal reforms which lack regard to local circumstances, add further confusion to the planning system and undermine the premise of a genuinely local plan-led system that the Government promised to local areas. These changes delay progress in getting plans in place as councils look to revise emerging plans to ensure they reflect the constantly changing national policy landscape before they are submitted for examination. This also adds unnecessary additional time and resource burden on both councils and the Planning Inspectorate. The Government needs to focus on avoiding large-scale reform which de-rails the good work councils are doing to get Local Plans in place and keep them updated. The Government should also make clear that greater weight can be given to relevant policies in emerging Local Plans at a much earlier stage than currently, to provide greater certainty to councils, communities and developers.

We do not support the proposal that all land in Local Plans is put strictly into one of three categories – Growth, Renewal, Protect. Local planning authorities are already required to set out the vision and framework for the future development of their local areas through a Local Plan, so it is unclear what problem the new proposed areas are trying to solve. It is also unclear how the new areas will work in detail. This consultation has not provided evidence that the selected characteristics from the international planning systems which have been used as the basis for the proposed ‘area’ approach will work in practice. The White Paper fails to recognise that other planning systems have developed and currently exist within different legislative frameworks with different national and regional planning approaches which may be neither appropriate nor easily applied to the English system.

The proposed ‘area’ categories are too restrictive and do not reflect the complexity of the areas that Local Plans need to plan for. The planning process is iterative and should be based on agreed principles with the flexibility to balance the needs of developers against those of communities. Flexibility needs to be built into the system, allowing local authorities to respond to changing circumstances.

In principle we support the proposal that Local Plans should focus on where they can add real value and provide local communities a genuine opportunity to shape decisions to facilitate the delivery of sustainable, high quality places. However, in addition to land allocation (point 2.5) Local Plans need to set out how and what land will be used based on agreed strategic goals and outcomes of each local authority together with their community. This requires making trade-offs to strike a balance between a local area’s social, environmental, and economic objectives for current and future residents.

We support Local Plans becoming an interactive web-based map with data and policies easily searchable, and designations colour coded (point 2.9). Local authorities will need the appropriate resources to lead on the transition and implementation of this approach, as well as the long-term maintenance. Notwithstanding our view on the Growth/Renewal/Protect proposal, if this is taken forward then there needs to be flexibility to include sub-areas to deal with more granular planning issues. It is currently unclear for example how the uses within a sub-area will come forward for uses such as schools or open space. Communities and councillors will need the ability to be 

involved at a later stage on the proposed sub-areas before applications are given approval, due to their more localised impacts.

We also do not support the first alternative option (point 2.11) for a binary model of land whereby the Growth and Renewal areas are combined into one - extending permission in principle to all land within this area does not allow councils to control the appropriate type and mix of development. The Letwin Review evidenced a greater differentiation in the types and tenures of housing delivered on large sites would result in increased market absorption. 

We recommend that the proposal for ‘areas’ is revisited and reworked together with local planning authorities who will be carrying out this work.


Q6. Do you agree with our proposals for streamlining the development management content of Local Plans, and setting out general development management policies nationally?

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

We do not support Proposal 2 to streamline the development management content of Local Plans. Councils need to retain the ability to set local development management policies to meet the specific requirements of their community. Development management plays a key role in local authorities’ ability to achieve their local planning vision and policies and long-term strategic outcomes. Centralising the process will remove the ability for councils to address local challenges and future needs with appropriate policies.

We would, however, in principle support the second alternative option in point 2.16 of removing the provision for the inclusion of generic development management policies within Local Plans where they repeat existing national policy.


Q7(a). Do you agree with our proposals to replace existing legal and policy tests for Local Plans with a consolidated test of “sustainable development”, which would include consideration of environmental impact?

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

In principle we support Proposal 3 for the removal of the existing legal and policy tests of soundness. A simpler test could be beneficial if the Local Plan being put forward is still considered robust. However, replacing the current Sustainability Appraisal (SA) system with a simplified “sustainable development” test requires more detail and clear definitions. We have concerns regarding proposals to replace the existing approach for environmental assessments with a quicker, simpler framework simply to speed up the process (see Proposal 16). While we support greater efficiency in the planning system, the White Paper has not provided evidence that a “simpler test” and “slimmed down” approach will support achieving greater sustainability.

The White Paper does not provide detail on what will be in the simpler test for assessing environmental impacts on a Local Plan. Any new planning legislation must also consider and align with the plans and ambitions of the Government’s 25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment as noted in point 3.23.

We support the recommendation that “environmental aspects of a plan be considered early in the process”. Any new planning legislation will need to align with final legislation 

from the Environment Bill, which the consultation notes will legislate for mandatory net gains for biodiversity as a condition of most new development (point 3.22).


Q7(b). How could strategic, cross-boundary issues be best planned for in the absence of a formal Duty to Cooperate?

We agree that the Duty to Cooperate has had mixed success and doesn’t always guarantee a successful outcome from the process. The tool or method that replaces it will need to both require and incentivise meaningful cross boundary, joint-planning cooperation and enable greater strategic alignment of cross-boundary infrastructure, as part of a strategic approach to plan-making. This needs to ensure that developers are both incentivised and held accountable for alignment with agreed cross-boundary decisions. This will also need to align with future decisions following the Government’s Devolution White Paper about, for example, approaches to cross boundary cooperation and decision making. 


Q8(a). Do you agree that a standard method for establishing housing requirements (that takes into account constraints) should be introduced?

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

No. The LGA has previously acknowledged in our submission on the Changes to the current planning system consultation that there are merits in introducing an element of standardisation in supporting councils to assess housing need, to reduce uncertainty and increase data transparency. However, we have continued to have concerns with the Government’s standard method since its introduction in 2017 and the resulting figures it produces for local areas. The fact that this will be the fourth consultation in three years on the standard method reinforces our concerns with the overall approach. Our analysis of the methodology changes proposed in the separate government consultation reveals that in terms of housing numbers there are some stark impacts in different parts of the country, and across different rural/urban areas. This demonstrates that a nationally set formula will always struggle to reflect local need. Further changes to the model, that will take into account constraints, will simply not be able to adequately reflect the wide range of constraints that impact on the ability of individual local authorities to deliver more homes.

We are also concerned that the proposals in the consultation would introduce binding targets on councils, based on an unevidenced argument that worsening affordability is a result of not enough land is being released where it is most needed. On the contrary, LGA analysis has shown that more than a million homes granted planning permission in the past decade have not yet been built. In addition, recent LGA analysis shows that there are more than a million homes already allocated in Local Plans which developers have not yet brought forward to planning application stage. It is simply not equitable that councils and the communities they represent could be set binding targets, with associated sanctions, if these are not met, when councils have limited tools to incentivise developers to build the homes needed at the scale and speed necessary. It is also important to note that simply building more homes does not and will not resolve affordability issues – having the right tenure mix to meet the needs of locally communities is vitally important.

It is our view that assessment of local housing need, including overall numbers and tenure mix, should be determined locally based on the relevant, most up to date evidence, because what might be the optimum tenure mix in one place, will not be in another. Any proposed new method that comes forward should be optional to use for local planning authorities where it is considered to be appropriate for the housing market that they operate within.


Q8(b). Do you agree that affordability and the extent of existing urban areas are appropriate indicators of the quantity of development to be accommodated?

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

These are two of a whole range of indicators that could be used to make an assessment of the quantity of development to be accommodated in different areas, but these should not be considered in isolation. As outlined in our answer to Q8(a) delivering the right tenure mix of homes to meet the needs of people living in local areas, also needs to be a key consideration alongside the overall quantum of housing. Councils also need to be able to take into account short- and longer-term changes in where people need and want to live. For example, the impact of COVID-19 has already and could more permanently change patterns and labour supply, with working from home likely to become more widespreadBusinesses may also choose to relocate to smaller premises or close offices completely and change working patterns for their employees – a national algorithm simply can’t take into account this level of nuance. 


Q9(a). Do you agree that there should be automatic outline permission for areas for substantial development (Growth areas) with faster routes for detailed consent?

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

Owing to the lack of detail in the consultation, we have potential concerns about  Proposal 5 wherein areas identified as Growth areas (suitable for development) would automatically be granted outline planning permission for the principle of development upon adoption of the Local Plan (point 2.31), while automatic approvals would also be available for pre-established development types in other areas suitable for building. We have concerns about proposals that would mean there would be no requirement to submit a further planning application to test whether the site can be approved (point 2.30). There could be potential merit in bringing masterplans and design guides forward to the Local Plan stage, and the opportunity to consider potential constraints such as archaeology or flood risk. This would mean that councils would have a strong Local Plan in place and could enable more local involvement before a site is allocated, rather than after, at which point a local planning authority has less influence. However, there are of course significant time and cost implications to this.

If a Local Plan is to be completed in 30 months as set out in Proposal 8 then it is likely that less evidence will be collected. The shortened 12 month [Stage 2] timeframe for providing necessary evidence is unlikely to provide enough time to allow all evidence to be fully confirmed for each growth area. This means that less detail may be known about an area to be ‘allocated’ than is possible under the current planning process. The local authority would need the ability to set the criteria for the principle of development.

The proposal for a fast-track for beauty (see Proposal 14) recommends that for Growth areas, legislation will require that a masterplan and site specific code are agreed as a condition of the permission in principle. However, there may not be sufficient time, capacity, or resources to prepare a necessary masterplan even within the 30-month timeframe.


Q9(b). Do you agree with our proposals above for the consent arrangements for Renewal and Protected areas?

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

We do not support Proposal 5 in respect of Renewal areas. A genuinely plan-led system with a strong emphasis on local design preferences would not contain these potentially wide-ranging permitted development rights.

The proposal for Renewal areas is that they will have general presumption in favour of development (point 2.33) through the three proposed routes, i.e. the new automatic consent route for schemes that meet the design and other prior approval requirement set out in the fast-track to beauty proposals; a faster planning application process for other types of development where a planning application for the development would be determined in the context of the Local Plan description; or through a Local or Neighbourhood Development Order. Each of these routes excludes the ability for local authorities to consider whether there has been a significant material change and the development is no longer appropriate prior to submitting the Local Plan. It also appears that the proposals potentially set up a dual system, whereby a developer could choose to exercise permitted development rights using a national pattern book approach or make an application for local plan-compliant development. There will need to be an appropriate balance between a national framework and the ability to make a local determination.

If the proposal for Renewal areas is taken forward, there should be local flexibility to split them into sub-areas. For example, in some locations it may be acceptable to convert commercial use to housing, but in others protection of employment sites would be critical. In such instance, local areas and relevant guidelines should take precedence over national guidelines.

We recommend that the proposal to further consolidate other existing routes to permission which have accumulated over time, including simplified planning zones, enterprise zones and brownfield land registers (point 2.37) are consulted on in parallel or together with the White Paper. Local authorities could be incentivised to use Local Development Orders more through greater skills, capacity and supporting resources.  

Notwithstanding our view that we do not support the proposed Growth/Renewal/Protect three-area approach, if they are taken forward, we agree that proposals for development in ‘Protect’ areas should come through as planning applications. They should be judged against policies set out in Local Plans, rather than the NPPF which the consultation proposes. There should also be clear presumption in favour of the Local Plan, which could help to reduce speculative planning applications, freeing up resources in both planning departments and the Planning Inspectorate. However, it is not clear what a ‘Protected’ area would include or the criteria for including land or a building within it – this would need to be locally-determined. As we understand it, all land not allocated as Growth or Renewal would be Protected.


Q9(c). Do you think there is a case for allowing new settlements to be brought forward under the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects regime?

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

The LGA strongly opposes this proposal because it does not support a locally-led planning approach, undermining Local Plans and removing the ability for councils to determine the decision most appropriate for their area. Due to the numerous pre-application consultation requirements, depending on the project’s complexity, the National Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIP) process can last a few years. The NSIP Development Consent Order (DCO) process whereby a consent is granted to successful projects, could take up to a year longer than planning applications processed by councils. The process is also more difficult for the public to engage with, undermining a council’s ability to determine together with their community what future development is needed and how their area should grow.


Q10. Do you agree with our proposals to make decision-making faster and more certain?

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

We support a shift to greater digitalisation in the planning system as part of Proposal 6. It will be critical, however, that community engagement in decision making is retained, and that greater certainty doesn’t create an inflexible system unable to respond to changes in demographics, economic changes, and local need. Whilst we appreciate that the shift to more digital, web-based Local Plans could make plans and related information more accessible, not all aspects of the public consultation process can be sped up without more resourcing. Even then, the proposal for the Local Plan stage to be the only opportunity to engage publicly during a plan’s development means that it is critical that engagement is done well. Not doing this would undermine the intention for an equitable planning system. Councils will need resourcing for transition to greater digitalisation. Resources will also be required to upskill officers to both use and support the public in employing new digital methods.

Councils should have the flexibility to determine the most appropriate publicity arrangements that provide easier and more cost-effective ways for local communities to find out about planning applications. This could include the use of social media and other electronic communications.

We agree that local planning authorities should determine applications in a timely manner (point 2.39). We do not support the proposal for an automatic refund of the planning fee should an application not be determined within the statutory time limits (point 2.40). This is because applications may be undetermined due to circumstances beyond the local authority’s control, such as waiting for more evidence from the applicant. We support greater incentives rather than penalising councils and communities for something they cannot control.


Q11. Do you agree with our proposals for accessible, web-based Local Plans?

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

Yes.

We support Proposal 7 to shift to a more web-based digital approach to planning and Local Plans. Local Plans should communicate key information clearly and visually so that communities can engage meaningfully in the process of developing them. Councils will need the appropriate resources to undertake a shift to digital web-based mapping and support their officers and communities through the transition process. Communities will need to be notified of the changes and upskilled in the new digital approach and methods. Issues of digital exclusion will need to be addressed to ensure all residents can engage in a more digitally based planning approach.

As noted in response to Question 10, not all aspects of the public consultation process can be sped up without more resourcing, some parts of the process, such as ensuring adequate time for consultation, cannot be sped up even with more resources. Councils will need resourcing for both the transition to greater digitalisation, as well as the 

upskilling to support council staff to both use and support the public to use new methods


Q12. Do you agree with our proposals for a 30 month statutory timescale for the production of Local Plans?

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

Regarding Proposal 8 councils should get Local Plans in place in a timely manner to provide certainty to communities and developers wanting to invest in areas. Constant changes to national planning policy have impeded councils’ ability to get plans in place and keep them up to date. However, it is highly unlikely that the proposed 30-month Local Plan timeframe will be sufficient in order to bring forward, for example, all relevant masterplans and design codes. Getting plans in place needs to be done well and councils need to be properly resourced to meet new timescales. In the consultation the rationale for a shortened timeframe is to support a more efficient planning process. However, it is unclear how plans will be properly justified, and evidence based if the new proposals speed up the evidence gathering requirements.

It is unclear how this new approach will speed up the planning process yet provide the flexibility needed to deal with complex issues or make amendments in local plans. There is also a risk that the 30-month timetable, particularly the 12-month period to develop the Local Plan, may reduce opportunities for participation by the public in council decision-making processes that will affect them in the future. This may curtail councils’ opportunity to hear from members of the public about issues that could lead to a more robust Local Plan and thus achieve better overall outcomes.

The White Paper does not provide detail about the new process or explain how it will help improve better engagement, or support meaningful engagement, or reach a wider local audience at the plan making stage.  There is a high risk that communities will not easily engage in this new way in addition to local planning authorities having limited resources to carry out meaningful community engagement with this new approach. There is also no detail about the potential impact if fewer individual applications go through planning committees and councillors will not be able to represent their communities where there are local concerns about individual applications.

The White Paper proposes that sanctions are placed on councils that do not meet the 30-month timeframe. However, one of the challenges for councils getting Local Plans in place is due to continual changes to government policy or legislation. This has not been mentioned in the White Paper, nor factored in in terms of the impact on the overall speed and efficiency of the plan making process. As such, it is completely unreasonable to penalise councils who experience delays in the process because of a constantly changing legal/regulatory framework.

While we support the suggestion that the Planning Inspectorate will be required to meet the new shorter timeframes (point 2.41), they will also need to have the additional capacity to do this and will need clear guidance to ensure a consistent approach is taken throughout the examination process.  


Q13(a). Do you agree that Neighbourhood Plans should be retained in the reformed planning system?

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

The LGA supports the recommendation in Proposal 9 to retain Neighbourhood Plans as an important means of community input. Neighbourhood Plans will be fundamental going forward and therefore this proposal needs to be strengthened. We also support the Government’s proposal to make greater use of digital tools as part of 

neighbourhood planning. There is, however, little detail about how this will work with the new areas approach, particularly regarding how to ensure communities have the resourcing and access to the digital tools being suggested. Local government needs to be involved in the development of pilot projects and data standards that the Government will be exploring.

Local authorities must be adequately resourced to support getting Local Plans in place should there be any changes to the process as a result from this consultation. Councils will need sufficient capacity and resourcing to support neighbourhood planning to get Local Plans in place if a new approach is adopted. Like Local Plans, Neighbourhood Plans must be supported by the relevant and necessary evidence to justify the strategy and policies set out within them. This places significant resource requirements on local communities who often find it necessary to employ the help of a planning consultant to deliver the plan. Neighbourhood Plans will need to reflect and align with any changes to the Local Plan process.

We also seek clarity regarding how any new Infrastructure Levy will work with Neighbourhood Plans.


Q13(b). How can the neighbourhood planning process be developed to meet our objectives, such as in the use of digital tools and reflecting community preferences about design?

We support greater use of digital tools for the neighbourhood planning process. However, to do this councils will need the need the appropriate skills and capacity and will require sufficient resources. In addition to the existing funding for neighbourhood planning, additional resources and guidance will be required for this during the transition and implementation phases of changes to planning system. 


Q14. Do you agree there should be a stronger emphasis on the build out of developments? And if so, what further measures would you support?

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

 

Yes. We support Proposal 10 for a stronger emphasis on the build out of developments and allocated sites. The evidence demonstrates that with nine in 10 planning applications approved by councils, and more than a million homes given planning permission in the last decade not yet built, planning is not the problem. There is also land for more than one million homes already allocated in Local Plans which developers have not yet brought forward to planning application stage. The White Paper provides no evidence that the planning system is responsible for holding up the build out of developments.

Councils are committed to getting homes built where they are needed but do not have all the planning powers to actually ensure it happens once planning permission has been granted. This could be achieved by councils having more powers to direct the diversification of products within sites, and a streamlined compulsory purchase process to acquire (at pre-uplift value) stalled sites or sites where developers do not build out to the timescales agreed with a local planning authority. Consideration should also be given to the introduction of financial penalties, for example council tax charges on developers who are not building out to agreed timescales. If the Government is to meet is aspirations on build out of new homes it needs to provide councils with the tools to encourage/oblige developers to build out sites with permission in a swift and timely manner.

Councils give planning permissions, they do not build the houses - that is the responsibility of the land owners and developers to deliver. It is completely unjust and impractical to hold councils to account for housing delivery.

 

 

Pillar Two - Planning for beautiful and sustainable places (Questions 15-20)

Q15. What do you think about the design of new development that has happened in your areas?

[Not sure or indifferent / Beautiful and/or well-designed / Ugly and/or poorly-designed / There hasn’t been any / Other – please specify]

N/A to LGA.


Q16. Sustainability is at the heart of our proposals. What is your priority for sustainability in your area?

[Less reliance on cars / More green and open spaces / Energy efficiency of new buildings / More trees / Other – please specify]

It is unclear how sustainability is at the heart of the proposals and the White Paper misses the opportunity to propose a clear strategy for how planning will support our shift to a carbon neutral future. Councils together with their communities are best placed to decide what their priorities are for sustainability in their area, so that development meets the diverse needs of existing and future residents, is sensitive to their natural and built environment and contributes to a high quality of life including sustainable employment opportunities, vibrant town centres, and good accessibility to education and healthcare. Local authorities are already leading the way towards achieving greater sustainability and net zero carbon, increasingly with ambitious plans to achieve this well before the Government’s 2050 target. We also support a greater focus on sustainability and sustainable development as defined in the NPPF


Q17. Do you agree with our proposals for improving the production and use of design guides and codes?

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

Decisions about the role of design in planning is best made by each local authority and should be locally-led. Local authorities need to take into account all material considerations, including design, and weigh them all up to arrive at an optimal decision on development. We therefore do not support the proposal for all local authorities to be required to produce a design code that is binding on decisions about development. We agree with the National Design Guide advice that any specific, detailed and measurable criteria for good design is most appropriately set out at the local level. 

While a design guide can be a helpful tool that sets out principles and provides exemplars, it may not be the right tool for creating high quality places. There is also a risk that design codes could create an additional layer of documents to consider and require a lot of resources. Design codes may also be prescriptive, potentially thwarting design innovation. It is unclear how any new design guidance, e.g. pattern books, will fit with the existing design review panel approach given they are advisory and do not make decisions regarding planning permission.

There also needs to be consideration of how any new guidance or codes will align with existing national guidance, including the National Design Guide, National Model Design Code and revised Manual for Streets.


Q18. Do you agree that we should establish a new body to support design coding and building better places, and that each authority should have a chief officer for design and place-making?

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

The Government already announced the establishment of a new design body and appointed a lead, prior to this consultation’s conclusion. We recommend that further appointments to this or any other national design body must include local government representation.

We support Proposal 12 for a step-change to ensure that local planning authorities have the appropriate skills. Whilst design is a specific skill set, there is scope for officers to become upskilled in design, for example by bringing them into the different stages of the planning process, working alongside others with design skills giving officers the skills to better understand codes and the role of design in masterplanning. The Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) recommends that to improve design quality and placemaking through planning, masterplanning should be a design-led, collaborative process, contributed to by government, local planning authorities and communitiesCouncils will need to have the appropriate resource to undertake any new approaches stemming from these proposals, or to bring in officers with a design skillset.

 

We can offer local government support and input for the proposals that Government will be bringing forward later this year to improve the resourcing of planning departments.

Councils are best placed to make decisions about what roles are needed to support operations within their own individual organisations such as employing a chief officer for design and place-making (point 3.12). Should this become a requirement, councils will need the appropriate resources to support any new role.


Q19. Do you agree with our proposal to consider how design might be given greater emphasis in the strategic objectives for Homes England?

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

We support high quality, sustainable design wherever possible, aligned with guidance set out in the NPPF. Should this proposal be taken forward, clarity will be needed regarding how local authorities will access additional support where needed to meet any new requirements without impeding on the resources required for other key policy objectives.


Q20. Do you agree with our proposals for implementing a fast-track for beauty?

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

We are strongly against Proposal 14 which would legislate to widen and change the nature of permitted development for proposals or the proposal whereby a developer could follow the proposed national pattern book approach, circumventing the usual planning (i.e. Local Plan) process. Local authorities need to have the ability to determine whether a development will align with necessary infrastructure and meet the needs of current and future residents. It will be important that there is a balance between a national framework and the need for local determination of style and type.

We support well designed sustainable places that consider how places will be used and the impact on local communities and their future needs. This also means thinking about how places work within their wider context, beyond individual developments and beyond their aesthetics. A well-designed proposal that meets local need, is sustainable, and supports the decarbonisation of housing to meet climate change objectives should in principle be approved based on its own merits and would not need to be fast tracked.

We recommend that the term ‘gentle densities’ and ‘gentle intensification’ proposed for Renewal areas needs to be defined. Intensification or densification i.e. increased density around town centres, high streets or of housing, should be decided through the formal planning route and be consulted on and agreed to by the local planning authority and its communities.

Effective Stewardship and Enhancement of our Natural and Historic Environment (pp 43-46)


Proposal 15: We intend to amend the National Planning Policy Framework to ensure that it targets those areas where a reformed planning system can most effectively play a role in mitigating and adapting to climate change and maximising environmental benefits.

We support Proposal 15 to amend the NPPF to ensure that it targets those areas where a reformed planning system can most effectively play a role in mitigating and adapting to climate change and maximising environmental benefits. However, there need to be clear and robust statements about how the planning system will deliver biodiversity net gain and meet environmental targets and align with the Environment Bill and future Act. It will be important to assess the environmental impacts of any new policies in the framework. This work needs to begin more immediately, rather than waiting for the legislation to be in place.


Proposal 17: Conserving and enhancing our historic buildings and areas in the 21st century

We recommend that the appropriate local government organisations such as the Association of Local Government Archaelogical Officers (ALGAO) are consulted on the proposed changes to the planning system. The ALGAO can provide the appropriate advice to support more sustainable outcomes for historic buildings and ensure that there is no risk that historic environment matters will not be appropriately taken into account as a material consideration in decision-making that could otherwise leave decisions open to challenge.


Proposal 18: To complement our planning reforms, we will facilitate ambitious improvements in the energy efficiency standards for buildings to help deliver our world-leading commitment to net-zero by 2050.

We recommend that Proposal 18 needs to be outlined in greater detail. The White Paper is silent on the requirement for Local Plans to pursue carbon emission reductions in line with the net zero target under the Climate Change Act. There is also no discussion about how national and local climate targets will inform the new Local Plans and planning decisions under the new system. These need to be included in any discussions about sustainability. Decisions stemming from this consultation will need to ensure that they take into account and align with existing and national targets in the national 25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment, and any future legislation stemming from the Environment Bill.

 

As part of Proposal 18, the White Paper states that the ambition for homes built under a new planning system is for them to not need retrofitting in the future. In our submission to the Future Homes Standard consultation in February 2020 we supported proposals to increase the quality and carbon neutrality of both new build and existing housing stock.  This is part of the wider transition necessary to achieve net zero carbon across all sectors. However, we strongly rejected proposals that would restrict local planning authorities from setting higher energy efficiency standards for new homes and we did not think that the Government’s preferred option of ‘fabric plus technology’ was ambitious enough.

Due in part to the Government’s less ambitious preferred option, we do not believe that as suggested in point 3.35, the Future Homes Standard proposals for design and environmental performance of building will free up planning authorities from many planning obligations to focus more fully on enforcement of planning standards and building regulations. Clarity is also needed regarding how delivery, monitoring and enforcement of these measures will be financed.

We look forward to the Government’s full response to the Future Homes Standard consultation in the autumn. A number of councils have more ambitious plans in place to achieve net zero carbon before the Government’s 2050 target and will need flexibility to help them achieve this.

Pillar Three - Planning for infrastructure and connected places (Questions 21-25)

Q21. When new development happens in your area, what is your priority for what comes with it?

[More affordable housing / More or better infrastructure (such as transport, schools, health provision) / Design of new buildings / More shops and/or employment space / Green space / Don’t know / Other – please specify]

Local authorities need the ability to create communities that have the necessary social and physical infrastructure for current and future residents. Local authorities, through engagement with their communities, are best placed to decide what will be prioritised in their area.


Q22a Should the Government replace the Community Infrastructure Levy and Section 106 planning obligations with a new consolidated Infrastructure Levy, which is charged as a fixed proportion of development value above a set threshold?

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

Councils play a central role in driving regeneration, revitalising communities and creating the right mix of homes and jobs to enable them to thrive. It is vital that new occupants of homes and wider communities get the infrastructure they need, and that councils are able to source sufficient funding for this infrastructure in line with Local Plan ambitions.

It is important to point out that the existing Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) proposed in Proposal 19 is one tool available to councils but it does not and cannot meet the whole infrastructure needs in an area and generally constitutes a low proportion of infrastructure funding. When CIL was first introduced it was based on the principle that all development would contribute to infrastructure across an area. Unfortunately, the Government’s execution of CIL, including the list of regulations and 

subsequent changes to these (including a number of national CIL exemptions) have limited its effectiveness as a tool to raise funding for infrastructure to support new development.

Without seeing further detail, it is difficult to take a view on whether the government should introduce a new consolidated Infrastructure Levy. We are concerned at first sight that the proposed Infrastructure Levy will also not be able to fund all necessary infrastructure, as well as affordable homes requirements, which will inevitably result in difficult trade-off decisions needing to be made.

In particular, it is unclear what impact these reforms would have on the overall level of developer contributions and their distribution across the country, or on the number of on-site affordable homes provided. The huge variance in final development value of developments across the country, even within individual local authority areas, could result in some areas having greater capacity to benefit and fund local infrastructure needs and secure affordable homes than others.

It is crucial that local government is involved in the design of any new system for securing developer contributions. Councils will also need additional resources in order to successfully meet any new responsibilities.

Finally, whist the existing systems of CIL and section 106 planning obligations is far from perfect, it is a well understood mechanism for securing infrastructure contributions, including affordable housing. There is a risk that a fundamental change to the existing system and uncertainty about the government’s strategic direction on the future of securing developer contributions results in a hiatus of development, as developers wait to see what a new system looks like. It may also result in delay and additional costs to councils who are already in the process of developing a CIL, as well as acting as a disincentive to those considering putting a CIL in place.


Q22(b). Should the Infrastructure Levy rates be set nationally at a single rate, set nationally at an area-specific rate, or set locally?

[Nationally at a single rate / Nationally at an area-specific rate / Locally]

Any new Infrastructure Levy rate should be set locally, as a nationally set rate will not be able to reflect the wide variance in ability to capture different levels of land value uplift on developments across the country.

Viability should also be removed as a material planning consideration, as this is all too often used to reduce contributions from developers and/or reduce build quality.


Q22(c). Should the Infrastructure Levy aim to capture the same amount of value overall, or more value, to support greater investment in infrastructure, affordable housing and local communities?

[Same amount overall / More value / Less value / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

As an absolute minimum, any new Infrastructure Levy should aim to capture at least the same amount of value as the existing system at an individual local authority level, rather than a national figure. However, if the Government is serious about improving the existing land value capture mechanisms, any new model should strive to deliver a significant uplift in the amount of value, compared to the current system, to support greater infrastructure investment. 

It is also important to note that existing contributions either through Section 106 or Community Infrastructure Levy rarely reflect the full infrastructure costs to an area, meaning there is a large infrastructure funding gap across the country. For example, London has an infrastructure funding gap of £1.3 trillion; the “Oxford corridor” has an aggregate funding gap of more than £178 million; Cornwall has a residual infrastructure funding gap of more than £659 million; Harrogate has an infrastructure funding gap of at least £98 million.   

Consideration also needs to be given to the fact that house prices in some areas will never generate sufficient land value uplift to fund all the infrastructure required, including affordable housing. If we are truly to level up the country, investment will be needed from the Government in infrastructure and land remediation in many parts of the country.


Q22(d). Should we allow local authorities to borrow against the Infrastructure Levy, to support infrastructure delivery in their area?

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

Yes, in principle we would support this proposal should an Infrastructure Levy be brought forward. One of the longstanding issues with the CIL is that whilst the powers to enable local authorities to borrow against CIL do exist, the current regulations prohibit this. CIL regulation 60 states that borrowing is allowed on zero per cent of CIL receipts, in the absence of a direction from the Secretary of State setting a higher percentage. Such a direction has never been issued. There is one exception that was introduced in 2019, which is that the Mayor of London is able to use CIL in order to repay money borrowed to deliver Crossrail.

We are however concerned that the consultation paper appears to suggest that one of the key mechanisms for funding upfront infrastructure would be by local authority borrowing (para 4.13), which would then be recouped from the Infrastructure Levy received on completion of developments.

One of the challenges of borrowing against the Infrastructure Levy, as with the current CIL, is that it is likely to be a highly cyclical funding stream, so borrowing against it is risky.  Therefore, whilst the flexibility of local authorities being able to borrow against future Infrastructure Levy receipts is a positive measure and therefor welcome, there should not be a national expectation that this will be one of the primary routes for upfront funding of infrastructure.

There should also be a mechanism for phased payments of Infrastructure Levy throughout the course of a development, which has multiple advantages for local authorities compared to the payment at the completion of a development, where – in the absence of government funding - local authorities would have to fund themselves any upfront infrastructure required for a site and cover associated cash flow costs and risks. For example, a development might remain uncompleted for many years, may undergo multiple re-submitted planning applications or may simply sit dormant, meaning that the council may be unable to recoup its costs.

Should an Infrastructure Levy be introduced regulations should also clarify that receipts received by a local authority can be passed to another body where this is to reimburse expenditure already incurred by that other body; for example, when they have acted as a forward funder, in cases where a developer is unable to fund the required investment at an early stage of a development.


Q23. Do you agree that the scope of the reformed Infrastructure Levy should capture changes of use through permitted development rights?

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

Yes. Our view regarding Proposal 20 is that permitted development rights remove the ability of councils and local communities to shape the area they live in and ensure homes are built to a high standards with the necessary infrastructure in place. On that basis, they should be rescinded. Notwithstanding our view, if the Government is minded to continue with permitted development rights allowing change of use, we would in principle support the proposal for any reformed Infrastructure Levy to capture changes of use through permitted development rights. Local authorities should also be able to require on-site affordable housing provision on these types of development, where appropriate. The consultation is not clear whether that would be possible. The exemption of self- and custom-build development should also be removed from any new Infrastructure Levy.

Any reformed Infrastructure Levy should also cover all developments, including minor developments – covering both infrastructure and affordable housing contributions.


Q24(a). Do you agree that we should aim to secure at least the same amount of affordable housing under the Infrastructure Levy, and as much on-site affordable provision, as at present?

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

Yes – in principle, although the consultation document is light on detail and so it is unclear how Proposal 21 would be achieved in practical terms. There is no detail provided as to: how options for the delivery of affordable housing will actually work; how prices and value will be set; how to deal with land transactions and tax implications; or how changing circumstances and/or market fluctuations would be taken into account. These are all significant, complex issues that will require detailed legislation and could introduce delays in the system.  

We are concerned that as the case with CIL now, the Infrastructure Levy will simply not be able to fund all necessary infrastructure, as well as affordable homes requirements currently captured through section 106 and so there will need to be appropriate trade-offs made. The consultation is silent on this point. We are also not clear on what the baseline for the ambition of securing at least the same amount of affordable housing is. To illustrate, there were a number of changes proposed to affordable housing delivery in the Changes to the current planning system consultation, which will reduce the amount of affordable housing. Is the baseline before or after these changes, for example? Similarly, there has been a downturn in housebuilding since COVID-19 hit, which will also have had a knock-on effect on affordable housing delivery. Is the baseline before or after COVID-19?

Although there should be flexibility for local authorities to decide how receipts from the Levy are used, there is a risk that if priority is given to affordable housing delivery, the limited size of the total pot will mean that less funding is available to provide the infrastructure needed as a result of new development. More detail needs to be provided on how the Infrastructure Levy will align with the proposed national Single Housing Infrastructure Fund and other funding streams, to ensure that there is sufficient funding provision for strategic and local infrastructure.

We agree that any Levy should deliver as much on-site affordable housing provision as possible, although it is not clear what powers local authorities would have to mandate this. Delivering a well-integrated variety of homes of different types and tenures is vital in supporting mixed and balanced communities but the consultation document is light on detail on how this can be achieved. Local authorities also need the powers to determine the tenure mix of any affordable housing provision, to ensure it meets local need.


Q24(b). Should affordable housing be secured as in-kind payment towards the Infrastructure Levy, or as a ‘right to purchase’ at discounted rates for local authorities?

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

There should be flexibilities for local authorities to do either.


Q24(c). If an in-kind delivery approach is taken, should we mitigate against local authority overpayment risk?

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

We support the principle of mitigating against local authority overpayment risk. However, we do not support the proposal that market volatility could be addressed by allowing a developer to change affordable housing into market housing – thus reducing affordable housing supply, as opposed to for example, the developer reducing their profit margin. It is crucial that local government is involved in the design of any new system for securing developer contributions.


Q24(d). If an in-kind delivery approach is taken, are there additional steps that would need to be taken to support affordable housing quality?

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

In principle we support the proposal that local authorities could have an option to revert to cash contributions if no affordable homes provider was willing to buy homes due to their poor quality. However, there should be no excuse for any poor-quality homes to be built - they are homes that once built someone will inevitably end up living in. There needs to be a much more robust mechanism to ensure all new homes are built to a recognised level of quality. This could be delivered through a requirement to meet specific housing and design sustainability standards. For example the Mayor of London, has housing design standards for the Homes for Londoners: Affordable Homes Programme 2016-21. This covers environmental standards; space and accessibility standards and security and access standards.


Q25. Should local authorities have fewer restrictions over how they spend the Infrastructure Levy?

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

Yes - in principle local authorities should have flexibility on how they use any newly introduced Infrastructure Levy to deliver local policy priorities (Proposal 22).


Q25(a). If yes, should an affordable housing ‘ring-fence’ be developed?

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

No. Please see answer to question 25.


Q26. Do you have any views on the potential impact of the proposals raised in this consultation on people with protected characteristics as defined in section 149 of the Equality Act 2010?

Issues of digital exclusion will need to be addressed to ensure all residents can engage equitably in the planning process and be informed about planning decisions affecting them. Councils need to be given the appropriate resources to ensure that they can support their communities through the transition and adoption of any new process, as well as the ongoing use of digital platforms as part of a more digitalised planning system.

Many communities do not have access to the quality or speed of broadband required to engage in the new Local Plan or Neighbourhood Plan approach as proposed. Some members of the public may either not be able to or not wish to engage digitally, and some aspects of the process may be better undertaken in person. The planning process and timeframes needs to allow the time and resources required to undertake a mix of genuine forms of engagement.

Delivering Change

We agree that arrangements for implementing these changes need to be well developed and communicated to minimise disruption to support a smooth transition (point 5.2). It is unlikely, however, that a wholesale overhaul of the existing system and transition to a new system, along with the accompanying legislation, will not create high levels of uncertainty. In addition, the changes will inevitably take many years to deliver and implement.

Rapid progress does not necessitate good progress, and if not well understood can lead to poor, unintended outcomes. The Government’s recently introduced permitted development rights, on top of successive introductions, have further removed the ability of local planning authorities to, for example, secure planning requirements on affordable homes or wider place-making standardsOver 13,500 affordable homes have been potentially lost through office to residential conversions under permitted development in the past four years. Permitted development undermines communities’ ability to ensure developers meet high quality standards and provide any affordable homes as part of the development or ensure supporting infrastructure such as roads, schools and health services are in place.

The Draft Building Safety Bill is an example of the potential risk resulting from not requiring planning permission and is therefore in conflict with the White Paper’s planning proposals. According to the explanatory note accompanying the Bill, ensuring new buildings are built to an acceptable standard depends on a new system of ‘Gateways’. The Gateways are not provided for in the Bill because they are to be created through secondary legislation and statutory guidance under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. Gateway One requires developers to produce a Fire Statement at the planning application stage of the planning process (set out in paragraphs 40-44 of the explanatory notes). This would be impossible under the system proposed in the White Paper. The removal of Gateway One would do significant damage to the proposed building safety system, in particular by preventing early engagement between the developer and the regulator - a key element in achieving the culture change Dame Judith Hackitt’s report into the Grenfell Tower fire called for.


Proposal 23 – Resources and Skills strategy

We are pleased to see that the White Paper recognises the need for local planning authorities to remain at the heart of any reforms (point 5.10), and that they need to have the right skills and necessary resources to implement the reforms successfully (point 5.11). This positive ambition needs to be turned into reality and local authorities will need to be closely involved in developing the resources and skills strategy.

Planning fees do not cover the true cost of processing planning applications. Taxpayers currently subsidise the cost at a rate of nearly £180 million a year. This is most apparent with smaller applications.

Councils need the ability to recover the costs of processing applications, and therefore should be able to charge an appropriate fee. Council planning departments could become self-financing through allowing councils to set planning fees locally. The government should work with local authorities to design a system that would allow them to set fees at a local level to cover the full costs of processing applications. In advance of this, the additional 20 per cent national planning fees increase consulted on in 2017 should be introduced as soon as possible.

Notwithstanding our view that fees should be set locally, we would in principle support point 5.18 of Proposal 23 if there was local flexibility to enable local authorities to alter the fees for certain application types, in specific cases where the national fee was not sufficient to cover the cost. Point 5.18 proposes that planning fees continue to be set on a national basis and cover at least the full cost of processing the application type based on clear national benchmarking.


Proposal 24 – enforcement powers and sanctions

We support the proposal to review and strengthen planning enforcement powers and sanctions. However, there is very little detail in this proposal to respond to. It is important that enforcement activity is integrated into the business planning of the whole planning service, so that it is not an isolated activity responding only to failures in planning control. An ongoing lack of funding and investment has been a longstanding barrier to ensuring the council have the skills and resources to improve and ensure good enforcement. We recommend that any proposals need to consider the appropriate levels of resourcing.