13 Dec 2021

2021 – the year of sweeping planning reform that wasn’t!

Thinking about planning reform over the last year, I feel like there seems to have been a lot of waiting for more details. The planning white paper and the changes to the current planning system, both published for consultation in August 2020, promised “radical reform unlike anything we have seen since the Second World War”.  However, the proposals came in for serious criticism from seemingly all sides, and by this time last year, the government was busy explaining it wouldn’t actually be proceeding with the proposed reform to the standard method for calculating local housing need. Instead, for all but the largest 20 local authority areas (who would have a 35 percent uplift) it would be ‘as you were’ using the 2017 method.

In May, the Queen’s speech was still indicating that the radical overhaul would go ahead and that a planning bill could be expected imminently. Fast forward through planning proposals being blamed for a key by-election failure, and enter stage left Michael Gove the new secretary of state for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC), and planning reform came to a screeching halt in the Autumn.

In my comment piece in Inside Housing, I set out what I thought Gove should be mulling over in this ‘pause’, primarily:

  • Reconsidering the role social housing can play in driving up overall housing supply
  • Putting the climate emergency front and centre of planning reform
  • Incentivising developers to bring allocated sites forward without delay and intervening where development has stalled
  • Ditching the narrow term “beauty” and consider well-designed in its fullest sense
  • Giving local authorities sufficient the tools, powers, autonomy, and funding, and
  • Not abandoning Section 106 without a real workable alternative for delivering affordable homes.

That’s not to say that there haven’t been any impactful changes in relation to planning and housing in 2021, and at CIH, we have had plenty to say about them.

In August the new permitted development right (PDR) enabled the change of use from the newly introduced use class E to residential - which we believe risks creating the wrong homes in the wrong places. My relentless growth of PDR blog and contribution to the RICs property journal debate on PDR, set our CIH’s view that whilst expanded use of PDRs may ensure a greater quantity of new homes, the rights will not provide the quality of homes we need for the future, with the necessary supporting infrastructure and facilities around them for sustainable thriving communities.

So, here we are at the end of 2021, once again waiting...

This time to find out more details on levelling-up and what this means for housing and planning. There have been hints that some planning reform is still coming, including a new Infrastructure Levy. Section106 (s106) is by no means perfect, but it is currently a major mechanism in the provision of low-cost homes, particularly homes for rent (in 2018/19, 49 per cent  of all affordable homes completed were funded through s106 agreements).

In October, we sent a joint letter with other public, private and third sector organisations to the secretary of state, expressing our concerns that the proposed new levy would threaten the delivery of affordable housing and infrastructure through the planning system and could limit the contribution of new housing to supporting levelling-up. CIH consider that retaining and improving the existing system would be the more effective approach and the best way to deliver infrastructure and high-quality affordable housing in mixed communities across the country. However, as we roll into 2022 we can only really wait and see, so watch this space for more in the new year.

Are you a member of our planning for housing network? We are launching a series of roundtable discussions in 2022 on various planning for housing topics.  The first of these is scheduled for 26 January 2022 and is on viability. Want to be at the (virtual) table for the discussion or do you have ideas for future sessions? Would you like to be part of the network? Email Hannah at Hannah.keilloh@CIH.org