15 Feb 2022

The government is to set out further details on its planning reforms, according to a statement from the chief planner. In a monthly update to local authority chief planners, Joanna Averley said the government would “further update on our approach to changes in the planning system in the spring”.

The statement follows a lengthy delay in the government’s reforms since the publication in August 2020 of the controversial planning white paper, which proposed ditching the current system of section 106 contributions and bringing in growth areas in which land benefitted from automatic outline permission.

The government has not brought forward a planning bill, as promised in last year’s Queen’s Speech. Housing secretary Michael Gove put the government’s plans under review when he replaced Robert Jenrick last September.

The government is also yet to officially respond to its white paper consultation, to which it received more than 40,000 responses.

Averley’s letter said the planned spring update would “provide further detail on how we will take forward measures to create a modernised and effective planning system that empowers communities to support, and local authorities to deliver, the beautiful, environmentally-friendly development this country needs”.

She urged local authorities to carry on with plan-making in the meantime, despite the uncertainty over the future direction of the system.

The last few weeks have seen several authorities pause or withdraw local plans in the light of the government’s apparent backtracking on its pro-development white paper. Basildon was the most recent to do so on Thursday last week.

Averley said: “While we understand that many colleagues in local government are looking forward to further detail on the precise details of our changes to planning, I would like to take this opportunity to encourage local authorities to continue work to ensure they have an up-to-date local plan in place in a timely manner.”

Her comments come amid widespread speculation that the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has abandoned its intention for a stand-alone planning bill and instead intends to wrap both “levelling up” and planning reforms into a single piece of legislation later this year.

The levelling up white paper published at the start of this month said the government “will introduce legislation to parliament to underpin in statute the changes fundamental to levelling up, alongside wider planning measures”.

The government is widely reported to have ditched its plans for growth areas benefiting from automatic outline permission, and for mandatory local housing targets devised in Whitehall.

Paul Smith, managing director of land trader the Strategic Land Group (pictured, right), welcomed the impending confirmation of further detail. He said: “This is the first time we’ve seen this written down. They just need to do it now.”

However, he said the chief planner’s “encouragement” for local authorities to continue plan-making was weak, given the rapid recent slowdown in plan-making in in a number of authorities facing high housing demand.

“It’s disappointing,” he added. “That’s a quite weak wording. Local authorities have been asked to make progress before and they haven’t done it. Increasingly we’re seeing them step back.”

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