What a Planning Reform Bill Should Look Like – If it is to be real reform and passable

Draft Planning Reform Act Here Word Here PDF

A couple of weeks ago I announced.

The MCHLG select committee is right. A draft Planning Reform Act should be published for consultation….

This is why I undertook the ambitious task of drafting out what I think a Planning Reform Act will look like.

It took a couple of weeks longer than I thought, because English Planning law is just huge and complicated. It just isn’t a good options to patch it up further, we need to codify, simply and reform – in that order – yes Gareth Bale should have that on his T Shirt.

Every attempt at planning reform since 1987 has failed and made planning slower and more complicated, through a failure of not getting the basics right and because of the law of unintended consequences though sweeping away what works for marginal changes of marginal benefit.

Essentially 99% of objections to planning reform you see on the net, in the press and amongst politicians is planning produces bad development, bad development is bad, planning reform will produce more development, as development is bad we need less development. Just look at almost any MPs speech on the last opposition day motion, almost any CPRE press release. That is the logic. You spot the logical flaw?

Planning reform has to break this illogical planning ‘hamster wheel and doom’ to quote both the prime minister and Bob Seely MP by ensuring that more development means good development in the right place. For all of the government’s utterly botched attempts at communicating how a move to a more zoning based system will work there has been a substantial shift. The government recognizes that less planning will led to a faster spinning hamster wheel of planning doom. More bad development will lead to ever more Nimbyism, and ever more pain for whatever party is in power. For the first time, well since I think the Town and Country Planning Act of 1932 we have a recognition we need more better planning on the model of what works to bring about the best designed, best located and largest scale of development internationally.

Saying it again, England is almost unique in not having strategic planning, and the UK is unique (though no longer in the Republic of Ireland or Scotland) of not having a zoning and subdivision based system, which Britain despite pioneering abandoned in 1948 on the wholly misjudged view short term view that as the State was now designing everything you no longer needed to masterplan areas for good design.

We see in much of Europe and (small) parts of North America and Australia countries with Zoning and Subdivision Systems achieve far higher development rates at far higher quality (just look at Peter Hall’s last book Good Cities Better Lives. This gives the lie to an argument you often here, its is impossible to deal with issue x in a zoning system, take almost any issue you will find examples to show this is a fallacy.

One of the reasons it is a fallacy is that in almost any planning regime (except the smallest of American counties) planning is a hybrid system of development control and zoning. In Germany almost every rural case is development control, design control is widespread and actually far more sophisticated in many zoning systems with form based zoning, German B-plans etc.

I often speak to planners who just don’t get how planning would work in a zoning system. What about minerals, what about brownfield sites in AONB, what about nature sites in regeneration areas etc.? That because the Planning White Paper was just terrible, almost irredeemably badly written asking for know input from planners with actual experience of how planning, subdivision and zoning works in such systems. Because it failed to explain a false narrative that this was a ‘developers charter’ cam about or ‘liberalising’ planning. No quite the opposite if that was the case we would have had more of the ‘build what you like where you like’ NPPF system, which failed on every measure it set itself, less green belt development, more housing in local plans more locally taken decisions (rather than at appeal), more responsibility locally with less top down strategic planning. What in fact we had was a tacit admission was that attempt had failed. Local plans have slowed to a crawl and we only have more approvals because we have reverted to an appeals led not plan led system. The problem was the government had so poorly explained how a new reformed system would work it had fermented a tsunami of opposition before it could explain, or it have even thought through, how it might work.

Hence this project to show how a reformed codified planning system could work.

In the next article ill explain some key components of the suggested act and how these could be used to build a wider consensus in civil society and across Parliament for reform.

Then ill go through the draft Act in a third part to explain some of the thinking behind each section and part.

Current planning legislation is huge and growing. Nine huge volumes of the planning encyclopedia, rising rom one when I started. The suggested Act is long at 603 pages but an 80% reduction from what we have now with removal of massive duplication and simplification. The draft act is base around a small number of key concepts such as ‘development’ and ‘planning permission’ – these key concepts are explained up front rather than in section 50+ as in the current act. Rather than numerous definition of key concepts like ‘England’ (Seven I counted in current legislation) there is one. Rather than numerous similar concepts like ‘permission in principle’, LDO, Outline permission etc. there is one. It goes on. The new codified system would be much simpler to apply. No longer similar slightly different concepts for planning, listed building, ancient monument, tree, adverts, hazardous substances control there is one. Planning Permissions become modular, notices being able to include orders (as in the 2008 Act), the nonsenses of notices and counter notices goes, we simply have one concept of ‘appeal’. Plans are called plans not ‘documents’, lets calls a spade a spade. Silly things that caselaw cant be included in planning conditions such as affordable housing schemes and car capped schemes, are included. The duties of the Secretary of State are clarified, no longer meddling in casework (always suspect on transparency grounds) but responsible to Parliament to meeting national objectives such as housebuilding and achieving net zero and net gain. It enables and incentivizes zoning but doesn’t force it, that would be a very bad idea, it needs to happen first in the biggest masterplanned sites. It reforms ‘outline’ permissions and its archaic ‘reserved matters; with a modernised system of permission in principle and parameter plans that mimics modern practice in masterplanning and form based zoning/design coding. But the best advice I can give is just dive in and explore.

The hardest thing is cross-referencing. I would be grateful of some proof reading on that. Ideally you only finalise that when the final bill is needed. Many schedules will be needed but ideally far fewer than previous acts as many of these simply amended non codified legislation.

Its not possible sadly to junk many of the acts as these still apply in Wales and Scotland and many cases simply modify past land compensation law.; but at the very least practitioners will be able to carry round what they need in one paperback book sized document. Unless planning is simplified and codified it will be too complicated to reform and be implemented.

What to do with it? Well I hope lawyers and planners will read it and make comments. Its an open source document released on an MIT licence. What I hope also is that it gives ideas with the MHCLG and they take the brave but necessary move of publishing a draft Planning Reform Bill.

6 thoughts on “What a Planning Reform Bill Should Look Like – If it is to be real reform and passable

  1. Wow!

    You may need to take another look at Part 13, it becomes very messy with the wording as is.
    Is the intention to exclude all vehicles or just motor vehicles? A highway that crosses a highway that crosses a highway?

    With the use of HA1980 definition are you meaning “highway maintainable at the public expense” which doesn’t actually explain what a “highway” is or something else? Ask Sauvain for his suggestions on the subject.

    I would include a Transport Planner in the list of required officers in Part 2. Too many policy planners are clueless about transport and end up with unworkable/un-deliverable plans having left it too late to consult with their highway authority.

    How do you square the conflict of interest problem where chief planner is also responsible for LA development company?

    The plan making process should include the Local Transport Plan function from the Transport Act 2000, but updated to require regular review. Land use is a derived demand like transport and should they be planned together not separately.

    I might of missed it but is the current Reg 3 regime staying? ie. marking your own homework.

    Finally please please do something about the vehicle crossovers. Just make them all need planning permission, rather the current awfulness.

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