There has been a lot of coverage in the property industry around the Government’s White Paper so when preparing for this webinar it allowed me to take a step back and take a look at the bigger picture.
There’s a lot here for the industry to welcome long-term: a stripped back Local Plan process with more focus on strategic decisions, clearer designations and a simpler, quicker planning application process. To do this and ensure design quality, sustainability and other characteristics that create successful places is an ambition we should all share – but it is also a huge challenge.
How well this vision works in practice will come down to how deftly its principles can be translated into legislation, put into practice and then enforced.
Local authorities are going to need more empowerment and resourcing to create and deliver plans that are right for their area within the Government’s 30-month timeframe and adopting the three zoning categories – Growth, Renewal and Protected.
How many will have the appetite to maximise the potential in Growth zones and what skillsets will they need to support the process – particularly where density and scale will be key? At the same time statutory consultees such as Environment Agency and Natural England will need to transform the way they operate with appropriate resourcing and accountability to support them – especially to justify new charging mechanisms. This will be a challenge and 42% of the webinar agreed that the changes will probably not lead to a faster, better consultation process.
Getting workable structures in place around developer contributions, public services and infrastructure, especially the replacements for S106 and CIL, is also going to be key. The certainty of standard, nationally-set charges emerging from CIL needs to be blended with bespoke local measures usually dealt with through the S106 process and to reflect divergent land values. Levelling up will be a challenge. 76% of the webinar felt unsure or negatively about whether the new Infrastructure Levy will be able to support development and the necessary levels of affordable housing.
Whatever the final form the new legislation takes, it is clear that fundamental change is on the horizon.
First, though, the issue of what to do during the transitional period should come further into the spotlight as 92% of the webinar agreed there should be clearer arrangements. There will be challenging times ahead as this new system, for all its likely benefits, comes into place and much of that will come down to resourcing and financial structures. This cannot be set up overnight and it is essential that authorities are provided clear guidance so current activity doesn’t stall. For instance, should authorities progressing current Local Plans pause or crack on?
The direction of travel is clear and those bringing forward new development should accelerate as far as practical rather than wait for the new shake-up to take effect.