As we go into 2022, the future direction of the planning system in England remains uncertain.
The planning white paper proposals for a hybrid mix of discretionary decision making and codified zonal planning have proved particularly controversial with concerns about what could be seen as a ‘top down’ approach contributing to the outcome of the Chesham and Amersham by election.
As a consequence, the reforms have been ‘paused’ pending the outcome of a review.
In November 2021, housing minister Christopher Pincher indicated that the government’s final response to the planning white paper will “probably” come forward in the “earlier part of next year.”
Also, in November 2021, at a Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Select Committee meeting, Michael Gove gave an update on current thinking. Gove suggested that the government will not be totally abandoning the white paper proposals and that the 300,000 per year homes target remains, but will be “stretching” because of factors including the labour market and the rising cost of materials.
Gove also expressed enthusiasm for an enhanced role for communities when it comes to new development, in particular proposals for a ‘Street Vote’ system of neighbourhood planning where residents could apply to their local council to hold a referendum on a design code for their street. If supported, planning permission for new homes or extensions which comply with the code would automatically follow.
So, it seems likely that localism will continue to have an important contribution to make in any reformed planning regime.
Levelling Up White Paper
The publication of the government’s much-anticipated levelling up white paper continues to be delayed. Whatever finally emerges, there is a compelling case for enhanced strategic planning powers to direct future investment into regional economic and housing growth.
Biodiversity net gain
The emergence of the planning system at the turn of the twentieth century was a response to the need to address public health issues resulting from rapid and largely unregulated urbanisation.
Looking ahead, planning will have an increasingly important role to play in addressing another consequence of urbanisation, namely habitat loss.
The Environment Act 2021 provides the statutory framework for biodiversity net gain (BNG) with the details to be fleshed out through secondary legislation, policy and guidance. BNG will apply to development for which planning permission is granted under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (with certain exceptions) and also for Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects consented under the Planning Act 2008.
When it comes to planning permission, the mandatory requirement is to achieve at least a 10% biodiversity net gain increase from the pre-development biodiversity value. The mechanism for delivering BNG is through a pre-commencement condition which must be discharged before development can begin. Consultation on the “practical and legal implementation details of the new biodiversity net gain requirement for development” commenced in January 2022 and runs until 4 April 2022.
BNG is due to come into operation in November 2023, but one of the consultation questions is whether, when it comes to minor development, that deadline should be extended to November 2024. In the meantime, planning authorities and developers will continue to get to grips with the new requirements and identify practical approaches to securing BNG.
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