John comments on proposed planning reforms

The Government has brought out a consultation document on reforms to the planning system which is open until the end of October. Radical reform of the planning system is necessary and will improve the way that councillors and local communities carry out an important local planning function.  I mention local communities here because Neighbourhood Plans remain crucial for the future of the planning system.  I am glad that these reforms will allow us to cut down the process of planning while maintaining standards.  As you may know, I have long defended the Green Belt and I look forward to being able to defend that further under the new system. There are some who take an adverse view of the proposals which I do not share.  

Under these proposals and through local democratic agreement, land will be designated under the categories of growth, renewal or protection and I comment on this further below.  This is far from a developer’s charter; it is local councillors and communities making the decision.  It is far from the erosion of local democracy; it is local councillors and communities making the decision.  We have, however, to ensure that new homes, businesses and vital infrastructure are not held back by outdated, complicated and time-consuming bureaucracy.

Contrast this with the current system where councillors spend a lot of time designating strategic sites and other land designations in the local plan that sometimes both undermine Neighbourhood Plans and which still have to go for planning permission (including appeals).  Under the proposed system every area will still need to have a local plan in place for building more homes, helping local communities drive change, and decide what gets built and where.  This will be based on whether sites are designated as growth, renewal or protection – a description which will, in part, be influenced by Neighbourhood Plans. Local housing plans should be developed and agreed in 30 months, rather than the seven years it often takes. A fast-track system for attractive homes will also be created. 

I realise, of course, that some in South Oxfordshire are questioning whether there is a shortage of housing to provide people with a roof over their heads or whether there is a need for suitable high value jobs to provide for our children’s future. What is missing is any vision for the future apart from one where the area becomes a fossilised remnant of a long-lost rural idyll. I believe these reforms will allow councillors to spend more time on this rather than the details of planning applications.

It currently takes an average of five years for an application for residential development to go through the planning system before building can even begin. This cannot be right for our communities who want homes to live in, places to work, and schools and hospitals built. 

Every area will, as I have described, still need to have a local plan in place for building more homes, helping local communities drive change, and decide what gets built and where. Local housing plans should be developed and agreed in 30 months, rather than the seven years it often takes. A fast-track system for attractive homes will also be created. 

Land designated for growth will allow new homes, schools, shops and hospitals to be permitted, as long as they meet local design and quality standards. Renewal areas will be provided with a 'permission in principle' approach subject to checks and balances with an emphasis on high quality that meets design standards. I would like to assure you that our heritage sites and green spaces will continue to be protected and preserved for the enjoyment of local communities and future generations, with development taking place on brownfield sites. 

I also welcome that the new rule-based planning system will make the best use of technology to increase transparency and accessibility, and to save taxpayer money being spent on outdated procedures. A new and simpler national levy will replace developer contributions, which are often the source of major delays, and allow more funds to be raised for social infrastructure to the benefit of communities. The reforms will also make the construction sector more efficient, helping small and medium sized housebuilders to compete with large developers. I have also been assured that key workers, local people and first-time buyers will be front and centre in the First Homes scheme, which will provide a 30% discount on the purchase of a home. The consultation on planning for the future has been launched and is now open to views from the public, businesses and local government. You can find more information on the consultation here.

I find it encouraging that the new proposals will once again make our planning system work for our communities while also creating much needed new jobs. All new homes will need to be zero carbon ready, which will deliver on our net carbon zero commitment, improve on environmental and energy standards and also avoid the need for retrofitting. I am confident that the reforms will deliver homes people want to live in, places people want to work and protect areas we as a nation need to safeguard for our children and posterity.