Housing minister promises planning system shake-up

The government’s heavily trailed intention to overhaul the planning system in England have become a bit clearer after the housing secretary Robert Jenrick outlined more details of sweeping planning reforms aimed at making it easier to deliver the “build, build, build” agenda announced by Boris Johnson last month.

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Jenrick said that in future land will be designated in one of three categories - for growth, for renewal and for protection. Promising to “cut red tape, but not standards”, Jenrick said that new homes and hospitals will be granted “automatic” permission to be built with a “permission in principle” given to developments on land designated “for renewal” in order to speed-up building. “Land designated for growth will empower development - new homes, hospitals, schools, shops and offices will be allowed automatically,” Jenrick said.

Jenrick said he was keen to increase home ownership and make it easier for younger people to get on the housing ladder. He claimed that the country's “outdated and cumbersome” planning system had contributed to a generational divide between homeowners and those who are not and said that under existing rules it can take an average of five years for housing developments to get through the planning system.

Homeless charity Shelter immediately warned against any reforms that lead to bad quality or sub-standard housing, pointing out that 280,000 homes had received permission in England between 2011 and 2016 but were never built. Speaking to the BBC, the chair of the Local Government Association, James Jamieson, said that it was “a myth” that planning was a barrier to house building. 

“Nine in 10 planning applications are approved by councils, while more than a million homes given planning permission in the last decade have not yet been built. Only last week the government's own independent report warned of the worse quality of homes not delivered through the planning system. We urge the government to heed these warnings and not further sideline the planning process,” Jamieson said. 

Addressing concerns over quality and attractiveness of new developments, Jenrick pledged that the government’s plans would ensure that tree-lined streets were provided for in law and he also said that areas of outstanding natural beauty and the green belt would be protected.

Although he outlined the three category designations for land under the government’s plans - for growth, for renewal and for protection - Jenrick made no mention of the criteria for designating land under these proposals. However, signalling his intention for a more modern approach to planning, the minister said that in future local authorities will move away from placing notices on lampposts towards an interactive online planning system.

Jenrick’s comments come hard on the heels of the prime minister’s pledge last month to usher in the most radical shake-up of the planning system since the second world war. The devil will of course be in the detail of these plans and the construction and property sector will be waiting expectantly to see if the government’s pledge to overhaul the planning system will facilitate the “build, build, build” agenda and make it easier to deliver projects that make a real difference to people’s lives.

Later this week, Infrastructure Intelligence will be hosting an online panel debate on how the planning system can help deliver the economic infrastructure element of the government's "build, build, build" agenda. A recording of the debate together with a news report on its conclusions will be available next week on our website. 

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