On Tuesday Robert Jenrick gave a speech at the Local Government Association Annual Conference where unsurprisingly the main focus was the forthcoming Planning Bill. Since the publication of the Planning White Paper in August 2020, the government has been promising the Planning Bill will be the biggest overhaul of the planning system since 1947. However, with a backlash from a rising number of Tory MPs and a disastrous performance in the Chesham and Amersham by-election the Secretary of State used the conference as an opportunity to seemingly tone down the Government’s proposals to make it more palatable to both the public and MPs who oppose the Bill.
During the speech Jenrick stated “I don’t think we need to rip up the planning system and start again. I think we need to improve the [planning] system”. This is a turnaround from earlier statements made by both Robert Jenrick and the Prime Minister with the latter stating in the introduction to the Planning White Paper the planning system needed “radical reform” and the way to do this was to create a “whole new planning system”. U-turns by the government and revisions of proposals are not uncommon. It was to be expected for the planning proposals to be toned down especially after the amount of backlash it generated.
It is imperative the Government gets reforms of the planning system right if they want to get the Planning Bill through Parliament and meet their target of delivering 300,000 homes per annum. With the Government announcing the end of the work from home order on 19th July Jenrick believes the changes in the way people work as a result of COVID will be an opportunity for more office to residential developments to help tackle the housing crisis and meet housing objectives on brownfield sites.
Another notable inclusion in the speech was a change in attitude towards Community Infrastructure Levies. Under the initial plans published last autumn, the Government outlined their plans to get rid of Section 106 agreements, which are agreed on a case-by-case basis between planners and developers. Under the initial plans, developers would instead have to pay a Community Infrastructure Levy set at a national rate. However, Robert Jenrick’s speech this week stated rates for Community Infrastructure Levies would be “locally-led and locally set”.
The sentiment of Jenrick’s speech, and recent MHCLG initiatives including establishing an Office for Place and the initiation of a pilot scheme to trial localised design codes show the Secretary of State’s wider vision for local councils to be at the front and centre of planning in their area.
Jenrick is also hopeful he “can work together across the party-political divide to ensure that a system that is sometimes slow and bureaucratic with poor outcomes and a low level of public trust can be improved for everyone’s benefit” but it seems he will be hard-pressed to do so.
This week it was reported Shadow Communities and Local Government Secretary Steve Reed will bring forward a ‘use it or lose it’ Bill in an attempt to tackle land-banking whereby developers hold onto land whilst prices rise with the intention to sell on. Research published last year showed whilst 2,564,600 homes had been granted planning permission, only 1,530,680 had been completed. It is also expected Steve Reed will encourage local authorities to use formal council motions to oppose the government plans.
It will be interesting to find out what support Reed manages to generate and how vocal they will be as the planning reforms continue to progress, particularly when the Government’s response to the Bill’s consultation is published in the autumn.