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Consultation Response: Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill - reforms to national planning policy

After a great deal of internal discussion, conversations with clients and contacts and general chewing of (metaphorical) pens, our response to the latest NPPF consultation has now been submitted to DLUHC. 

Thank you to everyone who helped pull the response together. It has been a real team effort. 

If you would like to see a copy of the full consultation response, please do let one of us know. In the meantime, there were some preliminary points that we felt compelled to make in the introduction to our response, which you might find interesting. 

These have been set out in full below, albeit with some minor editing for context:

Preliminary observations

The introduction to the "Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill - reforms to national planning policy" consultation paper states that “The government is committed to levelling up across the country, building more homes to increase home ownership, empowering communities to make better places, restoring local pride and regenerating towns and cities” and the “government remains committed to delivering 300,000 homes a year by the mid‑2020s”.  Whilst these sentiments are to be welcomed, we are concerned that many of the changes proposed by this consultation will undercut the government’s ability to deliver on them.

We are also concerned that some of the changes to the NPPF set out in the consultation lack cohesion and internal consistency – in fact some of them actively work against each other.  For example, the requirement that those authorities subject to the “urban uplift” should meet that uplift within their local authority boundaries, ignores the fact that of the twenty local authorities that are subject to the uplift, fourteen are either fully or partially surrounded by green belt. The proposed changes to paragraph 142, appear to discourage these fourteen authorities from reviewing their green belt boundaries on the basis of housing need; and the proposed changes to para 11 b) (ii) also actively discourage them from building at the densities that would be required to meet their housing needs in full within their own boundaries. 

In the absence of any formal and enforced mechanisms for regional planning (or an alternative mechanism for ensuring that housing needs are distributed effectively across an entire housing market area); the most likely outcome of these changes is that the ‘urban uplift’ will simply not be delivered.

Finally, we would like to raise our concerns about the ‘chilling effect’ that the government’s approach to planning policy reform is having on local plan production throughout England, and its impact on local authority resources more generally.

Since last September at least 23 local planning authorities have delayed progress on their local plans, largely as a result of uncertainty over the government’s direction of travel in respect of planning reform. According to research by Planning Resource, at least nine of these have cited the government’s policy reform agenda as the reason for the delay.

The issues of delays to local plan-making are likely to get worse, rather than better, given that we understand that at least two, perhaps three, further consultations are expected this calendar year – one relating to the Infrastructure Levy, a further consultation on wider changes to the NPPF following LURB becoming law and a detailed consultation on the scope and operation of National Development Management Policies.   

It is generally recognised (including by the former Housing Minister, Lucy Frazer), that local planning authority resourcing is currently under intense pressure. Engaging with and responding to these government consultations takes a significant amount of time and resources which many local planning authorities can ill-afford at present. In the absence of a significant uplift in local authority funding, perhaps a more streamlined approach to consultation could be considered? It would also be appreciated if the government would commit to publishing a full response to its consultations on planning reform. The general consensus amongst our clients and contacts is that the one sentence response to the ‘Planning for the Future’ consultation was neither helpful nor conducive to encouraging wider engagement in the government’s planning reform agenda.