​What does the Planning White Paper mean for Local Planning Authorities?

09 October 2020

Birketts’ planning experts (Partner Tom Newcombe, Partner Deborah Sharples and Senior Associate Steven Bell) were joined by guest speaker William Upton QC for a webinar on The Planning White Paper and what impact it will have on Local Planning Authorities (LPAs).

Tom opened the webinar with an introduction to the details of the White Paper, the proposed changes and the three pillars the plans – which place great emphasis on housebuilding over other forms of planning – fall under before the speakers went into detail on each one.

Tom said: “A point to note about this White Paper is that lots of it is essentially a Green Paper. There are almost aspirational statements with not a lot of detail about how this may work.

It is true that the planning system is complex, but it is inevitably going to be complex when it covers so many things.”

Pillar one: planning for development

William Upton QC explained the radical changes the government are hoping to make regarding the planning system, with Boris Johnson suggesting that the time has come to “tear it down and start again”.

This is to be plan-led, but in the new sense of setting the rules for development. William said: “The Government want to allocate all land – so every corner of England has a designation – as either a ‘Growth Area’, a ‘Renewal Area’ or a ‘Protected Area’.

The most familiar in terms of planning practice of these would be the Protected Areas. They say development in these would be restricted and would include areas with national designations, such as green belts and AONB. It would also include conservation areas, locally defined wildlife sites and open space. It could also include areas of open countryside outside of Growth or Renewal Areas. It is worth noting that it will be possible to apply for planning permission in Protected Areas.

Renewal Areas refer to those suitable for some development. This is where Local Plans become very important because they are supposed to set out what the suitable uses would be and set out the heights and densities for developments. In these Areas there would be a ‘statutory presumption’ in favour of approval of developments suitable in each area. The Paper contains examples of these such as ‘gentle densification’, the infilling of residential areas, and development in town centres."

William explained that Growth Areas where permission would automatically be secured were the least defined in the White Paper, saying: “These are defined as suitable for substantial development. This is where they expect comprehensive developments to fall and they include examples such as areas around universities or around clusters of businesses. They accept you would have to exclude areas with ‘important constraints’ – without then telling us what those are. Areas with flood risks would be excluded as well, unless any risk could be fully mitigated.”

He also explained why there has been such controversy about when local people and councillors would be able to influence development, and about the proposed shortening of the local plan process itself.

Pillar two: planning for beautiful and sustainable places

Deborah walked attendees through what steps are in place to protect vulnerable and valued environments, but made it clear that the White Paper stresses the importance of speed in planning and that LPAs will have an active role in the preparation of design codes and the protection of the environment.

Deborah said: “The aims of this part of the Paper are laudable: it seeks to enable the creation of beautiful places, combat climate change, foster high-quality developments including parks and green spaces, and secure net gains for our natural environment.

The proposals for the natural environment aim to protect the areas of environmental value that matter to us most, such as local wildlife sites and national parks, but I am concerned that there’s a very large part of the countryside not subject to protections. However, the Paper does say it should do much more than just protecting identified areas.”

Other proposals include reforming Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), and a target for a reduction in emissions from new homes by 2025, working towards the Government’s aim of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Deborah concentrated most on the plans for the ‘fast track for beauty’ and the inherent subjectivity involved, adding: “The text of the Paper really addresses the quality of the buildings as judgement as to the beauty of buildings is very subjective. There will be an expedited process for permission for developments which comply with pre-existing principles of good design.

The intention is that there will be permitted development rights for replicable forms of development. Some identified examples form the past include Victorian mansion flats and terraced houses – developments that are well-built fit for their purpose and stand the test of time. It seems to me, though, that this approach is likely to lead to more uniformity in development rather than diversity of development.”

Pillar three: planning for infrastructure and connected places

Steven presented the last section before a Q&A session with the audience, discussing the proposals of the Government for funding of infrastructure as a result of planned housing and what would happen to Section 106 agreements as we know them.

The Government want to bring forward reforms that make sure developer contributions are responsive to local needs.

The proposal in the White Paper is a consolidated Infrastructure Levy (IL), currently planned to be set nationally and to be charged on the final value of a development.

Steven added: “Section 106 is apparently to be abolished and the IL adopted instead, however I think we would lose the ability to take each application on its facts and to determine the relevant contributions that are required for a specific site. Also, Section 106 is not all about money; it is also used for the delivery of open space and the adoption of that space via management companies or parish councils.

I honestly don’t believe the Government will abolish Section 106, instead what I expect they will say is the IL will deal with all the financial aspects that we usually would have in a Section 106 agreement and other elements will be dealt with by Section 106.”

The Planning White Paper is open for consultation until 11:45pm, 29 October 2020 and can be found on the Government website.

If you are interested in hearing our experts discuss these issues, followed by a question and answer session with input from the audience, you can watch the full webinar on YouTube.

If you any queries on any of these topics or would like to know more, please contact our Planning and Environmental team.

Birketts’ upcoming webinars can be found on our Events pages.

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The content of this article is for general information only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. If you require any further information in relation to this article please contact the author in the first instance. Law covered as at October 2020.