Government’s planning white paper sets out to radically reform the system


Source: Andrew Fletcher/

1. Zoning

Under the new system, local authorities will have to bring forward stripped back local plans zoning all land in their areas for “growth”, “renewal” or “protection”. Areas zoned for growth will accommodate “substantial development” and will benefit from outline permission, but developers will still need to secure reserved matters permission in accordance with a locally drawn up design codes – though councils won’t be able to debate the principle of the scheme

2. Renewal

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

3. Stripped back local plans

Local authorities will have 30 months to produce a new-style stripped back local plan, down from a current average of seven years. While the new plans will be more powerful in that they will confer planning permission to “growth” sites, councils will lose the ability to set local policies. Instead, all planning policy will be set nationally with  local plans restricted to development allocation and the specific codes and standards to be applied to projects in the development zones. The plan should include “an interactive web-based map of the administrative area where data and policies are easily searchable”, with colour-coded maps reflecting the zoning, key and accompanying text setting out “suitable development uses, as well as limitations on height and/or density as relevant” within the zones

4. Section 106 scrapped 

The existing system of developer contributions is to end. Section 106 agreements will be scrapped, while the existing Community Infrastructure Levy will be morphed into a nationally-set levy on development value that the government says will bring in at least as more or more in the way of developer contributions as the existing system. The levy will be paid at the point of occupation, leaving councils to pay for and deliver any infrastructure needed up front. Councils will be allowed to borrow against future levy receipts to fund this.

5. Top down housing targets

The government plans to reimpose top-down housing targets on local authorities, a decade after the coalition government’s first communities secretary, Eric Pickles removed them, deriding them as “soviet-style tractor targets”. The government now envisages that every local authority will be bound by targets set by a renewed “standard method” for calculating housing need. The standard method will be based on how many existing homes are in an area, the projected rise in households, and changes in affordability.

6. “Duty to co-operate” ditched

Given the imposition of a top-down target, councils will no longer have a duty to co-operate with each other over the drawing up of local plans, as the numbers will be set by government. Numbers will take into account the presence of constraints on growth, such as green belt, but the White Paper didn’t say how this will be done.

7. Protection

Areas zoned as “protected” will essentially continue with the existing planning process, with all existing Green Belt and Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and similar such designations remaining in force. Importantly, areas of open countryside with no specific wildlife or landscape protections currently can be designated “protected”

8. New design code body

A new body is to be set up to be given the role of supporting local authorities in the creation of local design codes, and each local authority will be expected to employ a chief officer for design and place-making to oversee quality. Local design codes must have community input to be valid.

9. More permitted development

Within the “renewal” areas, certain pre-approved development types – such as the densification of suburban semis – will be given automatic pre-approval via new permitted development rights. These new PD rights will also have to take account of local design codes

10. Digital planning

Public involvement in local planning is to be hugely expanded by digitising the service, to allow much easier public access to planning documents. These will be published online line in standardised formats with “digitally consumable rules and data”, allowing people to respond to consultations on their smartphones. Authorities will be asked to use an “open data” approach, with the aim being to move the system from one based on documents to one based on data.