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Build, Build, Build: Your Guide to The Planning Reform 2020


The English planning system is ever-changing. As a landowner, keeping up to date with the latest planning reforms will give you the best chances of future development success.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government has made a number of changes relating to planning development (PD) rights and change of use rules.

Occasionally, the government signals intentions for radical changes to the planning system—and these alterations often take place in the background.

According to the government’s Planning for the Future White Paper, many PD changes are coming into effect sooner rather than later in a bid to create a system fit for the 21st Century.

To help you understand the changes related to you as a landowner, we’re going to look at the 2020 planning reforms, exploring the most recent updates as well as proposed changes. 

Let’s dive in.

Existing planning changes

In the first part of our planning reform guide 2020, we’re going to look at the recent changes to the English planning system, as conducted by the government.

  • Change of use: Concerning change of use regulation, the government has drawn up a more extensive list of use classes split into categories from A to F.
  • Permitted development rights: The existing rules are being consolidated and simplified, while new rules have been introduced. New rules relating to ‘demolish and rebuild’, and upward extensions have been in place since September.

Planning changes in progress

Now that you have a practical overview of the most recent changes to planning 2020, let’s explore the changes currently in progress.

  • EIA: As part of the planning reform 2020, environmental secretary, George Eustice, is proposing a new approach based on EIA regulation. This initiative looks to ‘front-load ecological considerations in the planning development process’, placing a greater focus on these factors—a proposal that is being met with mixed reviews.
  • First Homes: The government has developed a new affordable housing tenure which secures a 30% reduction on market value. The overall aim here is ensure that 25% of all affordable units on new developments will be ‘first homes.’

Planning for the future: proposed planning changes

Scrabble letters spelling RULES

Now we move onto the government’s changes proposed under the Planning for the Future White Paper. 

  • Local communities: As part of this planning reform change, local communities are to be consulted throughout the entire planning process from inception—using digital technology to create greater convenience and transparency. This change will involve improvements to the standardisation of Local Plan documents to make them more visual and easier to understand.
  • Green spaces: The new land reform also proposes the protection of green spaces through more building on brownfield land—it also states that all new streets will be tree-lined.
  • Local Plan process efficiency: The Local Plan process, end-to-end, typically takes seven years. With a mix of targeted strategies and tech-led initiatives, the government processes to streamline the process, reducing it to a maximum of just 30 months.
  • S106 and CIL: The system by which developers make contributions (S106 and CIL) is set to be replaced with a more straightforward national levy system.
  • Design coding: Another proposal in the pipeline is to make sure that new homes are ‘beautiful’ and fit the local vernacular. This process will also involve local communities.
  • Environmental changes: Concerning environmental impact, the government is to make considerable changes in energy efficiency standards to help deliver the 2050 commitment of being net-zero.
  • Zoning: Local Plans will split land into three definitive zones: a) areas for substantial development, b) renewal areas suitable for some development, and c) areas that are protected (in these instances, development is restricted). Each zone will be subject to site or area-specific requirements, e.g. height limits, scale, and density.

The overall take home here is that every key aspect of the planning process is being overhauled to improve efficiency as well as productivity across the board. Doing so, in theory, will reduce the number of appeals while allowing key developments to take action more swiftly.

wooden house layout

On the same day as the planning reform 2020 Planning for the Future White Paper was published, the government also released a consultation paper that proposed a new Standard Method. 

These changes cover how authorities will calculate the Standard Method. This point was particularly controversial, leading to a political revolt and u-turn from the central government. 

The ‘mutant algorithm’— as dubbed by the press— would have had significant consequences for greenfield sites in southeastern authorities (upping numbers), but would result in less building in northern cities. 

As a result, the government reverted back to the old system and added an uplift of 35% to 20 of the largest urban areas in the UK. 

These new systematics also include an increase in the threshold for developer contributions from the 40 to 50 dwelling mark rather than the current limit of 10-plus for which contributions are sought. This move is likely to help small and medium developers.

Finally, the permission in principle rule—initially introduced in 2016—is going to be tweaked to make it more relevant to all types of development, big or small.

If this is approved, developers can then seek ‘technical details consent’. The consultation document looks to extend this to significant developments.

There is a lot to consider here and if you’re a landowner looking for guidance on any of these changes, we’re here to help. Contact us and we’ll be happy to guide you though any aspect of the planning reform.

For more essential landowner’s insights, read our essential guide to land promotion.

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