Does LURB Herald A More Zonal Approach to Planning After All?

I’ll explain what I mean in a moment.

But first some preliminaries.

LURB of course seems to be the now accepted acronym for the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, laid before Parliament on 11 May 2022.

The Bill proposes a wide range of legislative measures across local government, regeneration, planning and compulsory purchase.

Aside from the Bill itself it’s worth having to hand:

⁃ the Explanatory Notes

⁃ the Government’s policy paper

⁃ the Government’s response to the Select Committee report on the planning white paper

My Town Legal colleagues have put together a fantastic (I think) 17 page summary of the main planning and compulsory purchase provisions of the Bill. Thanks Safiyah Islam and the following contributors:

• Part 3, Chapter 1 – Planning Data – Aline Hyde

• Part 3, Chapter 2 – Development Plans – Emma McDonald

• Part 3, Chapter 3 – Heritage – Cobi Bonani

• Part 3, Chapter 4 – Grant and Implementation of Planning Permission – Lucy Morton

• Part 3, Chapter 5 – Enforcement of Planning Controls – Stephanie Bruce-Smith

• Part 3, Chapter 6 – Other Provision – Stephanie Bruce-Smith

• Part 4 – Infrastructure Levy – Clare Fielding

• Part 5 – Environmental Outcomes Reports – Safiyah Islam

• Part 6 – Development Corporations – Amy Carter

• Part 7 – Compulsory Purchase – Raj Gupta

* Relevant clauses in Part 2 (Local Democracy and Devolution), Part 8 (Letting by Local Authorities of Vacant High-Street Premises), Part 9 (Information About Interests and Dealings in Land) and Part 10 (Miscellaneous) Victoria McKeegan

If you would like to receive further detailed updates from time to time please email town.centre@townlegal.com.

I held a Clubhouse session on 12 May 2022 where I discussed the changes and their possible implications alongside Catriona Riddell, Phil Briscoe, Nick Walkley and Meeta Kaur. It is available to listen to here.

For a deeper dive into the compulsory purchase elements, do join our next Clubhouse session at 6 pm on Tuesday 17 May 2022, where my colleagues Raj Gupta and Paul Arnett will be leading a discussion with special guests Charles Clarke (DLUHC, previous chair of the Compulsory Purchase Association), Henry Church (CBRE, and current chair of the Compulsory Purchase Association), Caroline Daly (Francis Taylor Building), Virginia Blackman (Avison Young) and Liz Neate (Deloitte). Some line up! Join here.

Raj and Paul have also started a blog, Compulsory Reading, focused on CPO issues. The first post is here and, guess what, this will be compulsory reading if your work touches at all on the intricate and changing world of compulsory purchase law.

Phew! So what was I getting at in the heading to this post? Surely any fule kno that there was once a government white paper in August 2020 that, amongst other things, proposed a more zonal approach to planning – with local plans throwing all areas into three hoppers: protected, restricted and growth – but that the political lesson learned was that this would be a vote loser and so the zonal approach was abandoned by incoming Secretary of State Michael Gove in the wake of the Chesham and Amersham by-election?

The idea of growth areas (where allocation would amount to automatic development consent) has certainly been abandoned, but the consequence of a number of the proposals in the Bill in my view leads us more towards a system where there is much less decision making flexibility in relation to individual planning applications and appeals. Instead, planning decisions will need to be made in accordance with the development plan and national development management policies “unless material considerations strongly indicate otherwise”.

So developers will need to make sure that:

⁃ development plans (local plans, neighbourhood plans) etc allocate the necessary land.

– the associated mandatory local design codes are workable

⁃ they can work within the constraints of whatever national development management policies the Government arrives at.

If development accords with these requirements, planning permission should be a doddle. If not, you plainly need to overcome a heavy presumption against. Our current flexible system (sometimes good, sometimes bad) will take a big lurch towards being rule-based or, dare I say it, zonal.

This may be a Good Thing or it may be a Bad Thing. Much depends on whether development plans, local design codes and national development management policies are properly tested for their realism. There will be even more focus on testing the soundness of local plans.

However, when it comes to local plan making, there are some major unresolved uncertainties:

⁃ First, what housing numbers do local authorities need to plan for? The Government still aspires to a 30 month local plan preparation to adoption timescale but that is only going to work if you have a largely “plug in and play” approach to the numbers, as was envisaged in the White Paper. What will happen to the standard methodology? We don’t get know. The Government’s policy paper says this:

The changes in the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill will require a new National Planning Policy Framework for England. The Government continues to listen to the representations of MPs, councillors and others on the effectiveness not only of the formula but the surrounding policies. Alongside Committee stage of the Bill, it intends to publish an NPPF prospectus setting out further thinking on the direction of such policies.

What numbers are we planning for as a country? Are we still targeting 300,000 homes a year? The Government’s response to the Select Committee report on the planning white paper says this:

The Government is determined to create a market that builds the homes this country needs. Our ambition is to deliver 300,000 homes per year on average and create a market that will sustain delivery at this level. There is compelling evidence that increasing the responsiveness of housing supply will help to achieve better outcomes. There seems to be consensus that 250,000 to 300,000 homes per annum should be supplied to deliver price and demand stability. For example, a 2014 joint KPMG and Shelter report highlighted that 250,000 homes per annum were needed to address price and demand pressures.”

⁃ Secondly, what will replace the duty to co-operate, which will be abolished? What will the new duty to assist really amount to? Can authorities adjoining urban areas with high unmet housing needs simply turn away from meeting those needs?

⁃ Thirdly, what if the allocations in the plan prove to be undeliverable or do not come forward? The safety net/potential stick of the five year housing land supply requirement (and presumably the tilted balance) in the case of up to date plans is to be abolished according to the policy paper:

“To incentivise plan production further and ensure that newly produced plans are not undermined, our intention is to remove the requirement for authorities to maintain a rolling five-year supply of deliverable land for housing, where their plan is up to date, i.e., adopted within the past five years. This will curb perceived ‘speculative development’ and ‘planning by appeal’, so long as plans are kept up to date. We will consult on changes to be made to the National Planning Policy Framework.”

Much is to be resolved here before we can begin to work out whether the proposals in the Bill will be an improvement on the present position.

Of course, the Government recognises that more work is needed. The following forthcoming consultation processes are identified:

Technical consultations on the detail of the Infrastructure Levy and changes to compulsory purchase compensation.

• A consultation on the new system of Environmental Outcomes Reports which will ensure we take a user-centred approach to the development of the core elements of the new system, such as the framing of environmental outcomes as well as the detailed operation of the new system.

• A technical consultation on the quality standards that Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects will be required to meet to be considered for fast-track consenting and associated regulatory and guidance changes to improve the performance of the NSIP regime.

Proposals for changes to planning fees.

Our vision for the new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), detailing what a new Framework could look like, and indicating, in broad terms, the types of National Development Management Policy that could accompany it. We will also use this document to set out our position on planning for housing, and seek views on this, as well as consulting on delivering the planning commitments set out in the British Energy Security Strategy.”

I hope this serves as some sort of introduction to the Bill and a taster as to some of the issues which will be occupying so many of us as the Bill passes through its Parliamentary stages. I don’t expect it to be on the statute book before early 2023, with a fair wind, and most of its provisions will not be in force until 2024 at the earliest. Final health warning: Bills change – we can expect plenty of amendments, omissions and additions over coming months.

Aside from my earlier plugs for our newsletters and the Planning Law Unplanned clubhouse sessions, I would also recommend two other blog posts: those of Nicola Gooch and Zack Simons . None of us has come up with a satisfactory LURB pun yet but I’m sure we all have our teams working on it.

Simon Ricketts, 14 May 2022

Personal views, et cetera

Beauty, Infrastructure, Democracy, Environment, Neighbourhoods

Author: simonicity

Partner at boutique planning law firm, Town Legal LLP, but this blog represents my personal views only.

3 thoughts on “Does LURB Herald A More Zonal Approach to Planning After All?”

  1. Simon. A brilliant post if I may say. (Read on a Catalan beach after a long swim in cold water!). Brian

    Brian

    Brian Waters MA RIBA MRTPI ACArch FRSA brianwaters1@mac.com

    ipPresident, The Association of Consultant Architects – join free at http://www.acarchitects.co.uk

    Sent from my iPhone +44 07957871477

    http://www.bwcp.co.uk BWCP – The Boisot Waters Cohen Partnership. brian@bwcp.co.uk

    Studio Petersham Gorshott, 181 Petersham Road TW10 7AW

    EDITOR Planning in London magazine planninginlondon@mac.com http://www.planninginlondon.com

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