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Planning reform proposals: ‘Don’t shoot the system’

Planning Officers Society president Malcolm Sharp explains why the economy, not planning policy, is the main obstacle to housing growth

Is the government right to pursue further planning reforms so soon after implementing the NPPF?
Shooting the planning system is shooting at the wrong target. There are hundreds of thousands of planning permissions in place already. Developers and housebuilders won’t build unless people can buy. Clearly it is demand that needs to be boosted.

Will renegotiating section 106 agreements boost house building?
[Section 106s are] not what is stopping development. Local authorities have been renegotiating for years but that’s a bit of a double edged sword. Developers are looking for local authorities to use section 106 to improve services where they can sell their properties. School places are an obvious example. The focus needs to be on the economic situation.

What impact would further reform have on the planning community?
Public sector planning is under a huge amount of pressure: 28 per cent has been taken out of local government [finances]. Planning departments are being asked to look at local plans, re-write them in light of the NPPF, get community infrastructure levies in place and to support neighbourhoods doing local planning. On top of that, they have to continue to be efficient in processing applications. That’s a huge resource requirement.

The worst thing is the uncertainty

How would more planning reform impact architects?
The worst thing is the uncertainty, which doesn’t help the planning authority, the developer, or the architect. Depending how radical it is, we are all going to have a period where we work out how to work with it again.

Should development be allowed on greenbelt land?
Under the present system local authorities can and have [reinvented] their green belts [however] it is often very controversial. [Also] most towns don’t have greenbelts. The green fields around our market towns are not protected in the same way.

Would development on greenbelt land boost house-building?
Personally, I don’t think it would. Often a planning authority would be under great pressure from local people not to develop green land. There are already plenty of planning permissions in the system.

Would further reform slow down the application process?
We are dealing with applications faster than we used to. The planning system is not the main issue slowing development, but it is taking too long to get infrastructure projects going. In the Cambridgeshire area, for example, some projects are dependent on the A14 being developed.

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