More reactions here from professionals around the district to the government's proposals to change the way the planning process is carried out.

Jo Steel, Planning Consultant:

THE Times’ Leader of 07/08/20 ended: ‘What the country cannot afford is a prolonged period of uncertainly that leads to plans being stalled’.

A very pertinent comment because over the many years of my involvement with planning, Governments of whatever political hue have given notice that the planning system will be reformed. All such attempts had one thing in common, the time it took to implement the changes and then for them to get bedded in.

Fortunately paragraphs 5.1 & 5.2 of the White Paper are reassuring because they acknowledge the need to rely on up-to-date Local Plans together with other forms of guidance, for example the National Planning Policy Framework.

This transition period will give applicants and administrators some continuing certainty while the raft of changes are being enshrined in law and become operational.

Using the time lines in the White Paper, 30 or 42 months to prepare the new style three area zone plans, some could emerge in 2024. However, any timetable can be susceptible because the process can be challenged through the courts using the Judicial Review mechanism.

This could add further unquantifiable time to the new plan making process.

A theme that runs through the White Paper is the use of technology for consultation about, and communication with, the new planning system. Councils now have websites on which planning documents are posted and planning portals for viewing applications and making representations.

These are valuable aids provided all who wish to gain access have the necessary technology in their homes. Sadly, as been brought out during the pandemic, not all households do have home technology.

For the most part, Councils’ online systems work well. However there can be flaws, for example material not being uploaded and/or when the system goes down. In that latter event everything stops for staff and users alike.

It is without question that over many years the planning system has become more complex. In the 1950s & 60s case officer reports were often contained on a single sheet of A5 paper. Now reports can be 20, 30-plus A4 pages.

In those far off days consultations were usually confined to the Highway Authority, now there are many consultees who have a legitimate role including Town and Parish Councils.

Planning conditions could be counted on the fingers of one hand, now 20 or30 are routine.

This is not to say that the system is worse , but it is more complex and can be very expensive for applicants to access and for Council planning officers to administer, especially at a time when staffing in many Council planning departments has been reduced.

Paragraphs 2.39-2.41 relate to changes aimed at speeding up the application processing. More delegation to officers is suggested, but delegation is widespread now and has been for years. A refund of planning fees is proposed if applications are not determined within the statutory time limits.

Councils could avoid this penalty simply by refusing applications – this has happened in the past in respect of similar reforms, so successful appeals will result in the planning fees being returned. Whilst these can be substantial, in many cases the costs of commissioning supporting studies that have to underpin applications involve much greater cost than the application fee. Appeals are time consuming and are likely to remain so.

Will the proposed changes lead to speed up of the plan making and application processes? In time, possibly. Will the proposals happen? Certainly, perhaps with some tweaks .

Will Council staff and applicants adjust to the new proposals? Yes, because they always do.

Duncan Hartley, Director of Planning, & James Ellis, Associate Director of Planning, with Rural Solutions:

1. IS a radical change of the planning system required?

Yes. The planning system as a whole is very slow, it is overly bureaucratic and legalistic. It has become the domain of lawyers and not creative planners. However, it is too easy to point the finger at the planning system, as Governments often do, as the primary culprit for not being responsive to meeting the needs of local communities.

At a time when devolution is a major talking point, there is a bigger picture here of necessary joined up central government and local government policy and actions which effectively meet our sustainable economic, social and environmental futures.

2. Where is the Planning system failing most in specific reference to rural communities?

Craven is a popular place to live, work, learn and visit. This brings great development pressures, and local authorities are not always adequately resourced to deliver this, especially with chopping and changing of planning policy without clear goals.

The housing needs, by affordability and by demographic group, of Craven’s rural communities, within and outside of the National Park, are not being met effectively. A fundamental restructuring of the housing system is required and there is a strong argument for a substantial return to the provision of housing by local authorities.

The quality of design in new development can be hit and miss. Design codes and the government’s focus on this can provide a role in ensuring greater quality to meet the community’s expectations on design.

3. Will a new proposed regime bring a step-change in meeting the housing needs of communities?

• It will speed up the Local Plan process – this is essential to ensure the supply of the right housing in the right place.

• In effect, the Government is advocating a zoning land-use system. This will simplify decision making and make planning easier to understand and more certain for particular development in some areas. Applications will still be required for design and other matters but planning may effectively be granted in principle in locations deemed as ‘Growth Areas’ by this system.

• Although the White Paper states that small builders, housing associations and those building their own home, will find this system much easier, less costly and quicker to navigate, we do not see fundamental new proposals.

4. Quality vs Quantity?

• We have started to see bold statements from the Government over the last two years on improving the quality of design of buildings and spaces.

• This high-quality design emphasis is very important to Craven, whose built and natural landscapes are nationally recognised.

• The key measure here in raising design standards lies in its enforceability – Craven needs tools to ensure high-quality developments are approved in a timely fashion and poor-quality ones don’t ‘slip through the net’.

• The history of social housing development in this country tells us that when we have urgently sought to meet a nation’s housing needs, quality has fallen short.

5. Delivering the infrastructure needs of Craven’s communities

• The use of the Planning system to deliver infrastructure has been toyed with by successive Governments. The current system does not always serve our local communities well in terms of delivery or outcome. There is no detail in the White Paper to see where or how a step change in local infrastructure provision will be delivered and quickly. This issue needs a meaningful response from the Government.

It is very encouraging that the Government is seeking to deliver fundamental change in our planning system. Quality, quantity and speed of delivery must all be increased to meet the needs of our rural communities, whilst effective protection of character and important areas is required.

Rural Solutions has been actively involved in these last months in direct debate with the Government’s Chief Planner on how the planning system needs to adapt in times of COVID-19. In responding to the release of the White Paper, we will seek to ensure the rural voice is heard on the vital changes ahead to seek to secure sustainable communities within Craven and the UK.

Tom Fyans, deputy chief executive of countryside charity CPRE (Campaign to Protect Rural England)

THE key acid test for the planning reforms is community involvement and on first reading, it’s still not clear how this will work under a zoning system. Although we welcome the government’s commitment to all areas having a local plan in place, we also need robust legal guarantees that the public are consulted regarding new development. Red lines on a map are not going to build trust in the planning system. As things stand, the government seems to have conflated digitalising planning with democratic planning – they’re not the same thing.

The government’s aim to deliver carbon neutral new homes by 2050 is pitiful and represents 34 lost years given that the Code for Sustainable Homes aimed to achieve the same thing by 2016 and was dropped by government.

On affordable homes, our concern is how this approach might play out in the countryside. In many rural areas, house prices are often more than ten times average earnings, and so the 30 per cent discount won’t cut it.

We have long advocated for a genuinely brownfield first approach and on this aspect, the government seems to have listened. But if a brownfield first approach is to work, local authorities need to be able to prioritise the building of those sites and reject unnecessary losses of greenfield land.

Cllr James Jamieson, Chairman of the Local Government Association:

COUNCILS are committed to ensuring new homes are built and communities have quality places to live.

It is vital that these are delivered through a locally-led planning system which gives communities the power to ensure new developments are of a high standard, built in the right places, and include affordable homes.

We also need to ensure that new homes are supported by new funding for community infrastructure such as schools, playgrounds and roads.

Nine in 10 applications are approved by councils with more than a million homes given planning permission over the last decade yet to be built.

The system needs to ensure planning permissions are built.

Any loss of local control over developments would be a concern.

It would deprive communities of the ability to define the area they live in and know best and risk giving developers the freedom to ride roughshod over local areas.

We will need to look properly at these proposals in detail, but councils share the aspiration of improving the current planning system to provide greater certainty for communities, encourage brownfield development, to deliver better infrastructure and increase local involvement.

It is vital that Government fully engages with and takes advantage of the expertise in local government to ensure that their aspirations of an improved system works in practice.

We look forward to responding to this consultation in detail and working with government to ensure any reforms improve the system.

If we are to truly fix our chronic housing shortage, councils need the tools, powers and flexibilities to plan for and deliver the quality homes and places communities need.