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Is proposed planning reform as radical as it first appears?
13 May 2021

The Queen’s Speech earlier this month outlined what has been referred to as the most radical reform of the planning system in a generation or more.  Proposed with the aim of delivering against the Tory promise to build 300,000 new homes each year, the reforms are aimed at simplifying the system to ensure faster delivery.  

As always, however, the devil is in the detail and as Suzanne Tucker from FBC Manby Bowdler’s Planning team explains, the changes may not be as instantly radical as headlines would have us believe.

“The Planning Bill proposes reform to the current system, including simplification and digitisation – both of which should be applauded.  However, the main change looks set to be the introduction of ‘growth’ areas, where substantial development will be encouraged including new settlements, urban extensions, and regeneration of former industrial sites.  

“Under these proposals, each local authority will determine the extent of the growth area; allocate sites within it for development; and once their policies are in place, planning permission on these sites will essentially be automatically granted, leaving it more difficult for people to object to applications.

“However, the process to determine the finer detail of each site and their appropriateness for the local population are yet to be clarified and even once allocated, it’s likely that details will need to be ironed out.  This could prove similar to the current reserved matters stage and is likely to be both a lengthy and expensive process – especially for larger or more controversial schemes.

“The impact that this could have on the Government’s intention to ‘build, build, build’ remains to be seen, however I can’t help but think that it won’t be as straight forward as the announcements would lead us to believe. 

“Added to that, is the simple fact that speeding up delivery, regardless of the system adopted, will require an increase in the number of experienced planning officers. There does not appear to be an intention to make this investment, which is desperately needed in some areas.

“Not only that, but there also remains a significant logjam of applications that have been left undetermined after emergency legislation allowing virtual planning Committee meetings to be held expired on May 6 in England.  With no clear way forward, any virtual meetings that have taken place since that date are, technically, unlawful and many Councils still consider it too soon to hold face to face meetings – who’s to say what impact that could have on the pipeline of applications needing to be determined?  With larger schemes reserved for committee scrutiny, this ongoing delay will almost certainly result in a delay to the grant of permission for thousands of new homes.

“So yes, much-needed reform to the planning system has been proposed and that should be welcomed, however don’t expect radical change to happen quickly.”

Meet Suzanne Tucker