In the wake of COVID-19, now is the time to strengthen our existing planning system, rather than destabilise it.
The Government has signalled its intent to outline proposals for comprehensive reform to England’s planning system in a forthcoming policy paper. In the wake of COVID-19, now is the time to strengthen our existing planning system, rather than destabilise it.
Deregulation or adoption of a radical new planning system such as one based on zoning, which has been subject to much recent speculation, will instead undermine community trust in the planning system and risks giving developers the freedom to ride roughshod over local areas.
Also, particularly as we move into economic recovery, we need developers to have the confidence to invest. Any programme of radical planning reforms, which will take considerable time to roll out, is likely to lead to uncertainty and delays to investment.
Local democratic oversight and community engagement are critical factors in ensuring trust in the planning system. The current system already contains tools that enable councils and their communities to agree land use priorities and zoning, not least the local plan, but also local development orders, permission in principle, brownfield land registers and compulsory purchase orders. These processes could be streamlined and made easier to use so that the system that is in place under the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) is first and foremost locally determined but also more agile and responsive to changing circumstances.
Further top down reforms that restrict the capacity for councils to plan for high quality development will exacerbate the very issues the Government wishes to address, including a restricted and unaffordable housing supply, growing inequality, the need to grow our green skills and economy, and improving our health and well-being.
We need a strengthened and properly resourced local plan-led system that reduces the risk of speculative planning applications and planning appeals and provides the right incentives to maximise developer contributions towards social and affordable housing and necessary infrastructure.