“Planning for the Future” – the English Planning White Paper

I considered submitting a detailed critique of the White Paper and its recommendations to MHCLG but on reflection have decided not to do so.  I support the detailed comments being submitted by the RTPI and the TCPA.  I hope the reservations of those organisations are taken on board but unfortunately have no confidence that this will be the case.

I did, however, put on record my belief that the White Paper’s proposals are misguided in a number of respects, including

  1. A faulty analysis that blames the planning system for low housing output
  2. The proposed switch to a zoning system and so-called rules-based approach rather than the more flexible and discretionary approach developed over the years
  3. An assumption that the rules-based approach will deliver more “beauty” – the reverse is likely
  4. An overly simplistic approach to reforming the production of local plans
  5. A serious undermining of local democracy and public involvement in the development management process
  6. An assumption that the proposals will result in fewer appeals and fewer legal challenges – again I think the opposite is more likely.

Reform of the planning system is needed and is possible – local plan making could involve fewer stages of activity for instance and the process be speeded up without reducing the plans to local zoning codes.  

The White Paper is correct in stating that the system has suffered from piecemeal “reform” over the years.  A big example of this is the recent changes to permitted development rights that have produced a system that is confusing and is already having disastrous impact on the living conditions of many people.  Permitted development should, by definition, be harmless.  Recent changes have ignored this basic requirement.  It is ironic that the White Paper is itself another attempt at piecemeal change.

The Ministerial introduction to the White Paper makes reference to Covid-19 and lessons from the pandemic making it even more critical that we have an effective planning system.  It is really worrying that the body of the White Paper fails to deliver proposals that will address issues that already existed but have been highlighted by the pandemic.  In many ways the White Paper was out of date before its publication.

My recommendation is that lessons should be learnt from the professional, public, and political reactions to the White Paper.  It should actually be withdrawn and a new consensus built from the informed responses.  This should be the brief for a full review of the primary and secondary legislation by the Law Commission to provide a consolidated body of legislation that is fit for purpose.

Kim Penfold

October 2020