Landmark overhaul of local planning system aims to ‘cut red tape and deliver homes faster’

The proposed reforms have been published today. Picture: Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local

The proposed reforms have been published today. Picture: Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government - Credit: Archant

The most comprehensive overhaul of the local planning system since the Second World War has been unveiled by the government today.

England’s historic planning process is set to be replaced with a new ‘rules-based system’ and the creation of ‘fast-track’ tickets which will give so-called beautiful developments automatic planning permission.

In its ‘Planning for the Future’ white paper, published today, the government has revealed how it aims to “streamline the planning process, cut red tape and harness technology to deliver homes faster” – with housing secretary Robert Jenrick calling the current planning system “a barrier to building the homes people need”.

The reformed system will propose that local authorities designate all land in their areas as being either for “growth”, “renewal” or “protection”. Sites earmarked for growth will then receive automatic planning permission if developers abide by locally drawn-up design guides.

Crucially, under the new system, local authorities will be required to draw up their local plans within 30 months – down from an average of seven years currently.

The new rules-based system aims to simplify and speed up the house-building process, and reduce the number of planning cases that get overturned at appeal – with Mr Jenrick criticising the current system as “discretionary rather than rules-based”.

He said: “Nearly all decisions to grant consent are undertaken on a case-by-case basis, rather than determined by clear rules for what can and cannot be done. This makes the English planning system and those derived from it an exception internationally.”

Most Read

The new system is also designed to boost the share of houses built by small and medium-sized building firms, which built 40 per cent of new homes 30 years ago – but only 12 per cent today.

Mr Jenrick added: “It takes seven years to agree local housing plans, and five years just to get a spade in the ground. These once in a generation reforms will lay the foundations for a brighter future, providing more homes for young people and creating better quality neighbourhoods and homes across the country.

“We will cut red tape – but not standards – placing a higher regard on quality, design and the environment than ever before. Planning decisions will be simple and transparent, with local democracy at the heart of the process.”

Controversially however, the plans also propose scrapping so-called ‘Section 106’ agreements. These enable local authorities to compel developers to provide a certain proportion of affordable housing on new sites, and contribute to local infrastructure.

Local authorities and charities have warned that removing Section 106 agreements will further reduce the already small numbers of affordable homes that councils are struggling to provide.

Polly Neate, CEO of Shelter, the housing and homelessness charity, said: “Decades of political decisions have left social housing gravely endangered. If the government now removes the requirement for developers to build their fair share, it could face extinction.

“Over a million households on waiting lists for social homes risk having their hopes dashed. Section 106 agreements between developers and councils are tragically one of the only ways we get social homes built these days, due to a lack of direct government investment. It makes no sense to remove this route to genuinely affordable homes without a guaranteed alternative.”

Alan Jones, President of the Royal Institute of British Architects, said: “While there is no doubt the planning system needs reform, these shameful proposals do almost nothing to guarantee the delivery of affordable, well-designed and sustainable homes.”

However, Mr Jenrick believes the new system will usher in a new democratic process of home-building fit for the 21st century.

“We are moving away from notices on lampposts to an interactive and accessible map-based online system placing planning at the fingertips of people,” he said. “The planning process will be brought into the 21st century. Communities will be reconnected to a process that is supposed to serve them, with residents more engaged over what happens in their areas.

“Local democracy and accountability will now be enhanced by technology and transparency.”

To view the new plans in full, visit