Does the Planning System need reform?

Colin Muller, Chief Executive, Muller Property

In this article, Colin offers farmers and landowners his view on whether the planning system needs reform and if so, what form that should take.

There is a widespread feeling that the planning system is not fit for purpose and needs reform. As a planning expert working with the system for over 35 years I can endorse that.There is far too much delay, cost, poor decision making and uncertainty in the system.

One of the key drivers of the need for reform is the Government’s ambitious housebuilding target with a stated objective that by the mid-2020s we will be building 300,000 new homes every year to address the shortage of affordable housing stock and a growing population.

In February 2019 the National Audit Office (NAO) said that ‘A flawed UK government planning system would not be able to deliver the 300,000 homes that Britain needs to build every year unless changes are made.’

The NAO report also says that half of all councils are likely to face penalties for failing the “housing delivery test” in 2020, which requires a certain number of homes to be built in their area. The potential failure to deliver against target is in spite of the housing revenue account borrowing cap being lifted last year. Despite a local area plan being a legislative requirement, only 44% of councils were shown to have an up to date local plan.

So I think it’s pretty clear that there is a problem and that’s borne out by the conversations I have with council planners, professional consultants involved in making planning applications and land owners.

So the question is what kind of reforms are needed?

In 2018 the ‘Raynsford Review’ (link to ) took a comprehensive look at the whole English planning system and was the first such exercise for several decades. The review was conducted by the former Housing Minister Nick Rainford, and the principal recommendations were to create a planning system which would:-

1 Have a clear purpose, prioritising the safety and wellbeing of people within a framework of long-term sustainable development, to create places of beauty, security and resilience.

2 Offer greater certainty and predictability to all parties, enabling investors, developers and communities to feel more confident in a genuinely plan-led system.

3 Provide a more precise definition of the rights and responsibilities of citizens in relation to planning and a more logical framework for decision-making at the most appropriate level.

4 Achieve better alignment between the various government departments and their agencies, as well as local government, in planning for the needs of the whole nation.

5 Secure a fairer balance between the interests of landowners and the public in terms of sharing the uplift in land value derived from development.

6 Attract sufficient people with energy, talent and commitment into both the public and private sectors to ensure an adequate supply of imaginative, skilled and committed planners who can help deliver inspirational place-making.

I can’t say I agree with much that Reynsford concluded, but at best talk of a review in Government has started.

Essentially the suggestion is to move away from ‘planning permissions’ and replace these with a rules-based ‘plan-led’ system, by which local authorities work with communities to create a plan stipulating where and how housing can be built by developers. This would ensure that housing decisions are still democratically agreed by the community, but reduce uncertainty, delays, and therefore costs to building more houses.

I’d want to see the detail of these proposals to get a better idea of the direction they would take us in. I want to see us achieving our national house building goals while introducing more certainty, less delay and a more prescriptive timetable for dealing with applications. I’d also welcome penalties for Councils who get decisions wrong, with fines for Councillors who ignore the expert technical and planning evidence in front of them.  I do hope we see a future Government implementing much-needed reform soon!

Whatever your view on the current system, if you are thinking of selling some land, getting it looked at and assessed is essential. Muller offers a 24-hour turnaround for any land assessment anywhere in the UK.

We are experts with a strong and established a track record, and we are used to proactively dealing with the planning system and take a hands-on, no-nonsense approach to dealing with the Council and understand the challenges, and timescales involved.

What’s more, Muller takes on all the costs and the risks, and we have the track record of getting the job done for farmers and landowners. If you need advice, GET IN TOUCH HERE