Planning for the Future – government White Paper

Planning for the Future – the lie of the land in the government White Paper

On Thursday 6 August, Robert Jenrick, the housing secretary, announced radical plans to overhaul the planning system in England. The proposals, intended to lay foundations for delivering 300,000 new homes a year in England, were put out to consultation in a White Paper entitled “Planning for the Future” – and they immediately provoked controversy. Here are the key features and links for more details and responses.

The aim, according to the government, is to “streamline and modernise the planning process, bring a new focus to design and sustainability, improve the system of developer contributions to infrastructure, and ensure more land is available for development where it is needed.”

One notable feature is the obligation for local authorities to bring forward simplified local plans zoning all land in their areas for “growth”, “renewal” or “protection”. Areas zoned for “growth” will be subject to “substantial development” and will benefit from outline permission, but developers will still need to secure reserved matters permission in accordance with locally drawn-up design codes. 

“Renewal” areas will be deemed suitable for some development, such as densification and infill development, and will be accorded a statutory “presumption in favour” of development. Schemes that comply with locally drawn-up design codes will benefit from a “fast-track for beauty” recommended by the government’s Building Better Building Beautiful Commission.

Development will be restricted on land in the “protection” category to maintain the special status of land defined as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, part of the Green Belt or a National Park, where, essentially, the existing planning process will apply. 

New-style stripped back local plans will need to be produced in 30 months (against a current average of seven years) and will have greater strength in that they will confer planning permission to “growth” sites. Councils will lose the ability to set local policies, with all planning policy being set nationally with local plans restricted to development allocation and the specific codes and standards to be applied to projects in the development zones. 

Some housing experts are predicting the use of algorithms in the application of policies; and amid suggestions that Surrey might become the domain of a unitary local authority – it appears that decision-making is becoming more remote from communities. Localism, it seems, is on the ropes.

The plans also include the scrapping of “Section 106”, the system by which developers contribute mitigating payments, and the evolution of the existing Community Infrastructure Levy into a nationally-set levy on development value.

Central government will impose housing targets determined by a “standard method” (another algorithm?) on local authorities – and worth noting especially for Haslemere is the avowed intention that housing numbers will take into account the presence of constraints on growth, such as Green Belt. Given a perception of looming “democracy deficit”, therefore, communities will be well advised to seek any local land-classification changes in good time. 

Another proposal will see developers only facing a requirement to include an element of affordable housing if they are building 40 or 50 homes (this against the current threshold of 10). This change would be for an initial period of 18 months to help smaller developers get over the economic problems arising from the Coronavirus pandemic, it is said.

So what will these changes mean for affordable housing? The government claims to be “more ambitious for affordable housing provided through planning gain”, but doubts are widespread. 

The National Housing Federation, for example, called for clarity on what would replace the Section 106 agreements, which delivered almost 28,000 affordable homes, about half of the 2019 total. Its chief executive, Kate Henderson, asked how a new national levy would enable the much trumpeted “levelling up” of communities. And, according to the local government association for Greater London, the changes are potentially disastrous and could reduce the amount of affordable housing built.

There is restlessness also among backbench Conservative MPs over the disposition of new housing, as it is feared the Southeast is set for a disproportionately large share. Indeed, the Sunday Times of 13 September carried the headline: “Tory MPs rage at housing plan to ‘concrete’ over the shires”.

Clearly, though none of this will happen overnight, vigilance and preparedness are going to be vital in protecting community interests.

Know your AGLV from your SSI, CLT and Green Belt?

Reproduced from the Haslemere Herald, 4th July 2019, with their kind permission.

Significant and controversial housing development proposals are emerging everywhere, and there has been much reference to official land designations.  But do we understand the difference between brown field, AONB, AVLG, Green Belt and so on?  Martin James, the deputy chairman of the Haslemere Community Land Trust, guides us through the minefield…

Where do you stand on land in and around Haslemere? It is a question being asked with increasing frequency and urgency as major development proposals are brought forward. And, as discussions, consultations and controversies increase, it can appear that establishing quite where you stand is no simple matter. 

For while your feet may seem planted on an apparently insignificant and familiar stretch of ground, you could at the same time have one foot in an AONB, the other in an AGLV, and also be slap-bang in the Green Belt. It’s a minefield.  

To most people, most of the time, these unmarked classifications overlapping and crisscrossing our landscape seem as irrelevant as they are unobserved – and it is only when change is suggested that the public sits up, takes notice and says: “Hang on, what’s all this about Field A? I walk my dog up there!” or, perhaps, “Hey, I hear there’s going to be some affordable housing built there – might be a chance for our son and his smelly gym kit to move out and get their own home!”   

Whatever planning issue arises, those widely mystifying initials and land descriptions are likely to crop up and then you might find it useful to know your Brownfield Site from your Strategic Gap, and so on. This lay person’s guide provides a few stepping-stones towards the knowledge and language of the planners and developers. 

AONB is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Nationally designated. Any development must respect and conserve the character of the landscape.

AGLV is an Area of Great Landscape Value. Locally designated. Complementary and usually overlapping or next to AONB, and subject to similar policies aiming to ensure the character of the landscape is protected.

ASVI is an Area of Strategic Visible Importance. Open land that stretches into urban area and prevents settlements coalescing.

SSSI is a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Protected area, such as important wildlife habitat.

Settlement Boundary is the line defining the limits of a town or village, generally allowing for development within but not without.  

Metropolitan Green Belt is the zone of largely undeveloped land surrounding London. Development only in very special circumstances. 

Greenfield Site is an urban or rural area hitherto undeveloped thus virgin territory for development.

Brownfield Site is an urban or rural area previously developed. Municipal, domestic or industrial site for demolition and development, or conversion.  

Strategic Gap is an uncultivated area between settlements to prevent them merging and to protect their separate identities.  

Rural Exception Site is land normally just outside a village settlement boundary where affordable housing can be built.

CLT is a Community Land Trust, a form of community-led housing, set up and run by ordinary local people to develop and manage homes as well as other assets. 

Haslemere Community Land Trust is a not-for-profit community benefit society working to provide affordable homes for local people. Haslemere is a lovely town, with excellent transport links and glorious countryside – but such desirability has led to high property prices that mean many young residents and modestly paid workers are locked out of the housing market and often have to move away. A lack of social-housing provision only adds to the problem. Haslemere CLT can build housing that remains affordable for ever, and will be sited and constructed only with the support of local people. To join or learn more visit