THE reforms launched by the government recently represent the biggest shake-up of the planning system for decades and, they claim, aim to ‘modernise the system and get the country building’.

The Planning for the Future proposals set out by Housing and Communities Minister Robert Jenrick are at an early stage. The White Paper has only just been published and there is now a 12-week consultation period where everyone is able to make a representation directly to government.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s foreword claims the plans are the most radical since the Second World War. He says the current planning system, designed and built in 1947, has, like any building that age, ‘been patched up here and there over the decades’.

He says: “Thanks to our planning system, we have nowhere near enough homes in the right places. People cannot afford to move to where their talents can be matched with opportunity. Businesses cannot afford to grow and create jobs. The whole while is beginning to crumble and the time has come to do what too many have for too long lacked the courage to do - tear it down and start again.”

The 31-page White Paper details three main categories - Planning for Development; Planning for Beautiful and Sustainable Places; Planning for Infrastructure and Connected Places.

The reforms claim:

* Local communities will be consulted from the very beginning of the planning process. By harnessing the latest technology through online maps and data, the whole system will be made more accessible;

* Valued green spaces will be protected for future generations by allowing for more building on brownfield land and all new streets to be tree lined;

* Much-needed homes will be built quicker by ensuring local housing plans are developed and agreed in 30 months – down from the current 7 years;

* Every area to have a local plan in place - currently only 50 per cent of local areas have a plan to build more homes;

* The planning process to be overhauled and replaced with a clearer, rules based system. Currently around a third of planning cases that go to appeal are overturned at appeal;

* A new simpler national levy to replace the current system of developer contributions which often causes delay;

* The creation of a fast-track system for beautiful buildings and establishing local design guidance for developers to build and preserve beautiful communities; and

* All new homes to be carbon neutral by 2050, with no new homes delivered under the new system needed to be retrofitted.

But what do those who work directly with planning authorities, developers or those involved in environmental campaigns think of these plans? A number of professional bodies in Craven have given us their take on how they see the proposed reforms to the planning process fitting in with the needs of the district. Here is how they interpret the proposals.

Ian Swain - Chartered Town & Country Planner / Director of Planning WBW Surveyors, Skipton:

THE Government’s recently announced proposals for speeding up the Planning System and simplifying the process are broadly welcomed. However, we have been here before. Nearly 10 years ago Eric Pickles, the then Secretary of State with ministerial responsibility for the Planning System, was heralding reforms to a slow and inefficient planning system, that would deliver development in the right places, but at the same time protect those places of most importance and ensure a good standard of design. Boris Johnson and Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick are currently claiming extremely similar improvements will be made as a result of the latest proposed changes.

At the core of the alterations is a new simpler and clearer Local Plan document that would guide decisions on the acceptability of development proposals and zone areas for either ‘growth’, ‘protection’, or ‘renewal’. If the Government delivers on its ambitions, I suspect the biggest change will be within those locations identified for ‘growth’. Once allocated in a Local Plan, provided a proposal meets the site-specific requirements for development, then it seems that permission for new developments could be achieved more speedily within ‘growth’ areas and there would be less public participation in the process. I imagine that securing permission for housing and employment development more quickly in a Local Plan’s ‘growth’ areas, and subsequently seeing that built, is the Government’s key objective in terms of aiming to get the country building on a scale that it hopes will drive economic recovery.

Outside of the ‘growth’ areas, it is not clear that the changes will be so significant or lead to a faster simpler planning system. It is probable that within a primarily rural area such as ours, there will be limited designated ‘growth’ areas. Development proposals will continue to be considered by the Local Authority and their merits assessed as they always have been.

The limited resources available for Local Authorities to deliver these new style Local Plans in a prompt and timely manner is going to present a significant challenge. Planning Authorities across the country struggled to promptly produce new Local Plans following the last major change in planning policy approximately 8 years ago. Without significant extra resources allocated I believe similar problems will arise this time around, notwithstanding suggestions of sanctions for failing to deliver.

Firstly, Local Authority resources are likely to be further reduced as a result of Covid-19. Secondly, the initial proposals suggest that the opportunity for community consultation at the planning application stage is to be ‘streamlined’, but opportunity for public participation is going to be strongly encouraged during the preparation of the new style Local Plan. Active participation in the production of plans from local residents, landowners, statutory consultees, developers and other stakeholders will be extremely important, but it is unlikely to make for speedy plan production.

Finally, the future for councils both across North Yorkshire and within East Lancashire is very uncertain. Both areas are facing significant re-organisation over the next few years and the current position seems to be that larger Unitary Authorities will be established. Until decisions are made on this, and the administrative areas of these new authorities are decided, the ability to produce Local Plans is going to be severely hampered and will delay their production.

Councillor Richard Foster, leader of Craven District Council:

THE proposed reforms are billed as a complete overhaul of the planning process and already there are a number of different views on the likely impact if these do pass into law. Under the proposals a new local plan would need to be in place within 42 months of the legislation being passed and we would lose the ability to set local planning policies other than those for site design. Just the fact the new plan will be produced using national policies risks undermining local democracy. One major concern is the proposed changes around affordable housing which could result in a loss of affordable housing. For example, under the plans the ability to secure affordable housing through Section 106 agreements will be removed and the threshold for affordable housing increased (from 10 to 40/50 homes) that would mean in Craven, most settlements outside of Skipton and Settle would not deliver affordable housing. We will be considering the proposals closely with Members over the next few weeks as part of the consultation and as well as our own CDC response will be part of a submission on behalf of all District Councils.

Peter Stockton, head of sustainable development with the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority:

THE ‘Planning For The Future’ white paper raises the prospect of some profound changes to the town and country planning system in England.

The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority as the local planning authority for that part of Craven within the National Park will now closely study the proposals and comment on them in due course. The Authority prides itself in running an effective and helpful planning service. Its performance in the production of Local Plans and the management of planning applications is significantly better than the national averages criticised in the White Paper. Within the National Park there is no short term lack of housing land but rather a reluctance to build out sites once they have planning permission. There are currently over 500 plots with permission in principle for new housing. It is reassuring to note that the white paper says any ‘reformed planning system’ will continue to protect places of environmental and cultural value that matter to people, such as National Parks.