Revising planning process will be a hard balancing act

The proposed simplification to planning policies could lead to a tussle between localism and national growth


We welcome the government’s proposed review of planning policy and in particular, the aim of providing a simplified planning system with the emphasis on the need to meet the growing demands of the housing market.

A simplification of the planning process will be excellent for the residential sector as it should boost the recovery of the new development market which is needed to meet the housing shortfall, particularly in the South-East.

Viability is a key factor in the long-term resurgence of the encouraging that the government recognises the need for planning obligations to be reviewed and the need to implement policies that do not inhibit growth.

The revised planning framework proposes a presumption in favour of sustainable development in the housing sector. It also encourages councils to be ambitious in delivering new homes.

But while sustainability is important it is also crucial that any revised policy encourages the growth of new communities through increased access and connectivity to public spaces along with local support and clearly defined goals.

Localism has been a cause for concern for some time and it remains to be seen what its long-term effect on the planning process will be.

The government’s desire to simplify the process is a step in the right direction. But to work it must be implemented in tandem with other measures taking into account the viability of key strategic development sites.

A simple process bound by the same restrictions as previous frameworks would be a waste of time and resource.

The short-term impact on delivery is likely to be challenging, as the longer-term needs of communities need to be addressed while balancing volume and affordability issues.

Most encouraging is recognition of the rolling five-year land supply requirement, which many authorities have failed to achieve.

There should be a consistent balance between the government’s localism agenda and the national need for growth.

In addition, the government has stated that local communities must operate in favour of sustainable development with a key priority being to promote sustainable economic growth and employment in the region.

At this point, it is not clear how localism and the need for growth can work effectively together.

In the short term, many land owners and developers will be encouraged to bring schemes that meet the criteria forward or renegotiate planning consents for stalled schemes citing the need for growth emphasised in the draft.

Much of the draft is positive but it is still uncertain that it can sweep away a raft of established detailed planning policy statements covering more than 1,000 pages into a simple user-friendly document.

The lack of detail may give rise to issues of interpretation of policy with, for example, different views taken on what constitutes sustainable development.

While the objective is clear and needs to be supported, it remains to be seen if the simplifications proposed leave planners and developers with a consistent and clear view of what is to be done.