A host of changes to England’s planning system will “cut red tape, but not standards”, housing minister Robert Jenrick has claimed, as critics accused the government of weakening social housing requirements.
A sweeping reform of house-building rules will see three new categories of land earmarked in a bid to speed up the creation of new homes – alongside the scrapping of current local affordable housing rules.
Developers will be granted “automatic” permission to build on sites marked out for "growth", in a move the government says will allow new homes, schools, shops and business spaces to be built “quickly and efficiently, as long as local design standards are met”.
A second category – "renewal" – will allow sped-up development if a project is “well-designed in a way which reflects community preferences”.
Meanwhile land marked as "protected" will be restricted from development, with councils retaining the ability to decide whether building can go ahead.
Speaking as the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government published its white paper to consult on the plans, Jenrick said: “Our complex planning system has been a barrier to building the homes people need; 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.”
The housing secretary added added: "As we face the economic effects of the pandemic, now is the time for decisive action and a clear plan for jobs and growth.
“Our reforms will create thousands of jobs, lessen the dominance of big builders in the system, providing a major boost for small building companies across the country."
Section 106 row
MHCLG is promising that local communities will be consulted from the start of the planning process, with online maps and data used to make the process more accessible.
More building on brownfield land will be permitted, it says, and local housing plans will have to be developed and agreed in 30 months, down from the current average of seven years.
A “clearer, rules based system” will replace the existing planning process, ministers say.
But housing charity Shelter has slammed the government’s proposal to replace Section 106 agreements, which are used by councils to commit developers to building a certain proportion of affordable and social housing.
Ministers say Section 106, as well as the community infrastructure levy that developers pay to councils to support local infrastructure, “will be replaced with a new infrastructure levy that will be a fixed proportion of the value of the development” and could be spent locally on roads, playgrounds and discounted homes for first-time buyers.
But Shelter’s chief executive Polly Neate warned: “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. So, it makes no sense to remove this route to genuinely affordable homes without a guaranteed alternative.
“The government says it wants to build beautiful, but that cannot be only for a fortunate few.”
She added: “Struggling renters and key workers with no savings face being left behind.
“This pandemic has shown us the importance of safe home like nothing before, but a safe home will remain a pipe dream for too many if the government fails to invest in social housing. Cutting up the planning system must not result in cutting social homes.”
Shadow housing and planning minister Mike Amesbury said: “This is a developer’s charter that will see communities sidelined in decisions and denied vital funding for building schools, clinics and community infrastructure."
Matt Honeycombe-Foster is acting editor of CSW's sister title PoliticsHome, where a version of this article first appeared.