Following hot on the heels of changes to the Use Class Order and increased permitted developments, the government’s latest step in reorganising the planning system to accelerate delivery was heralded yesterday with more detail to follow later this week in its planning reform paper.

The key change is the introduction of a zonal approach based on three broad categorisations – growth, renewal and protection and while housing is the main area of focus there will be impacts across the whole property industry and sectors, not least with hospital and school development freed up in growth locations. 

But can we have it all – a faster planning process, delivering high quality decisions and developments in locations where people want them and at a price they can afford and developers can build them for?

We don’t have long to wait for detail: how will the Local Plan process change to reflect the requirement for local authorities to identify the zones and how can this slow process be streamlined while allowing for constructive consultation? How will local authorities be asked to plan for future housing need and how will Government ensure it is delivered – hopefully we will see the welcome return of regional planning?  What is required in terms of developer contributions and infrastructure delivery and what does this mean for CIL? How will heritage fit in – when is it right to protect and when should we renew? Equally, what does this mean for local authorities protecting their town centres or public sector organisations with large landholdings?

Ultimately, planning is but one tool for delivering growth. Smoothing out and shortening the process is always welcome but to truly unlock delivery we need to come back to financing. 

More resourcing is essential at all levels. How will cash-strapped, resource-light local authorities adopt, maintain, and enforce this new approach? Planning Inspectors already have a backlog when it comes to Local Plans. And while developers may find themselves funding local infrastructure more than ever before, how will regional and national networks be upgraded to keep pace? 

The property industry is most effective when it has certainty, so there’s a risk now that these changes could, counterintuitively, slow delivery as we assess likely outcomes for particular sites, assets and portfolios. It’s worth bearing in mind that all of these changes are going to take time and political will to bring them into effect. Until then, business as usual must surely be the maxim even as we monitor local areas and engage in the planning process more than ever before.