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Tories promise 'presumption in favour of planning'

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Conservative policy paper ‘Open Source Planning’ pledges to abolish Community Infrastructure Levy, the IPC and regional tier of planning

Under the plans published this afternoon (February 22), authorities will be allowed to retain council tax paid by residents of new affordable homes, in order to spur house-building .

Local communities will be encouraged to use ‘collaborative democracy’ to create ‘bottom-up’ local plans which ‘protect the character of their neighbourhood’. The Planning Inspectorate will not be able to rewrite communities’ local plans.

David Cameron said the plans represent one of the biggest shifts in power for decades’. Caroline Spelman (above), Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, said: ‘Labour’s planning system is bad for democracy, bad for the environment and bad for business.

‘We will put local communities in the driving seat, creating an “open source” planning system that promotes new homes and jobs to the benefit of the economy, local democracy and the environment.’

Download ‘Open Source Planning’ as a pdf

Other policies include:

  • Change ‘restrictive’ parking rules to ensure more parking spaces in family homes and near local shops
  • Action to tackle the ‘garden grabbing’ and over-development in residential neighbourhoods
  • Reinstatement of the ‘needs test’ to decide if out-of-town retail developments can go ahead if they would damage the viability of town centres
  • While the Infrastructure Planning Commission will be abolished, ‘its expertise and fast-track process within government’ will be retained
  • Retaining protection for the Green Belt and wildlife
  • Parliament to ratify national planning policy

Industry reaction

Matt Thomson, Acting Director Policy & Partnerships at the Royal Town Planning Institute
‘We welcome the publication of the Conservatives’ planning green paper, which demonstrates that the party takes very seriously the important role of planning in addressing the issues facing communities today, and we are particularly pleased that they are proposing a National Planning Framework, a key RTPI policy which we have campaigned for over many years.

‘However, we do not believe the planning system is ‘broken’; the system itself is basically sound, but has been over-engineered and centralised.  Few of the Conservatives’ stated aims actually need a radical change to the planning system which could lead to a period of uncertainty, resulting in serious consequences for the provision of housing, employment and key infrastructure, as well as for overall economic recovery.

‘We will be looking very closely at proposals that we have concerns about such as abolishing regional planning, enabling so-called third-party rights of appeal and introducing a presumption in favour of sustainable development, and will advise the Conservatives accordingly.’


Liz Peace, chief executive of the British Property Federation
‘House building is at its lowest level for generations and we need to kick-start construction without delay. Targets have failed and it’s clear we need to try out new innovative ways of making things happen but while there are some excellent ideas here, third party right of appeals would be a recipe for chaos. It would clog up the system and undermine everything the Tories have said about being pro-development.

‘Local incentives are sensible if the sums are large enough to sway people and few will mourn the death of the Community Infrastructure Levy, although we suspect a tariff may be rather similar in practice. We also welcome the commitment to take forward plans to simplify the planning system as advised in the Killian Pretty Review.

‘While it is vital that locals have a say in development it is essential that this does not simply recreate the current Whitehall-level bureaucracy at local level and so we welcome Grant Shapps’ assurances over being ‘pro-development’. The key to making any new proposals work will be an ongoing, direct conversation with the industry to ensure that what looks good to voters is truly workable in the real, post-election world.’


Kate Henderson, interim chief executive of the Town and Country Planning Association
‘There are real opportunities to reform the planning system to both secure public legitimacy and to maximise its potential to deal with key issues such as housing and climate change.  Proposals in the Conservative’s discussion paper on planning for a national framework for development are a step in the right direction towards the recommendations in our recently published report, Connecting Local Economies. However, any national framework on sustainable development must deliver on housing and climate change with social justice at its heart.’

‘One of the key risks posed by the Conservative Planning Green Paper is around the abolition of regional plans without a clear and accountable strategic alternative. At a crucial time in the country’s economic recovery it is important that the planning system’s ability to deliver on key challenges such as employment, housing and renewable energy is not set back. While the regional tier has been flawed due to its lack of accountability, the need for planning at the sub-regional scale - which makes social, environmental and economic sense - remains overwhelming.’


David Orr, chief executive of the National Housing Federation
‘Much of what the Conservatives propose in their green paper is positive, and we support the party’s drive to create a simpler, more transparent and consistent planning system’

‘The proposal to scrap section 106 and replace it with a tariff system requires a leap of faith that the delivery of new homes will be maintained. If a new planning system operates as the Conservatives envisage, all will be well. If it doesn’t, we could lose up to 64,000 new affordable homes over three years.’


Stewart Baseley, executive chairman of the Home Builders Federation
‘While appreciating that there are shortcomings in the current planning system, implementation of such a radical policy potentially is a high risk strategy and may have unintended consequences which need to be addressed.’


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Readers' comments (1)


    There is a wide consensus that planning has lost the plot. This paper is full of interesting proposals which, although appearing naive, could just, given time, produce a lot of improvement to process and, perhaps even to outcomes.

    Although there is a recurring emphasis in the paper regarding design, I fear that this means a mixture of prescription, guidelines, local design standards, design by community charrette and new barriers to imaginative development if it not already embedded in the local plan.

    On the plus side is a huge opportunity for architects to take a more commanding role in development. Under the so called 'open-source' approach there would be great scope for deemed permissions. These are described as 'automatic permissions where sustainable development meets no objection from a significant majority of immediate neighbours'. Nearly every term is still to be consulted upon and defined but the proposal is to reintroduce a presumption in favour of development so long as it is sustainable and compliant with the local plan (and therefore with national policies).

    Architects will find themselves with an enhanced role in pre-consultation with neighbours and wider communities, depending on the scale of the development, with the aim of achieving the explicit support of the majority so that the detailed consideration of an application by the planning authority is avoided and the client gets a quicker, cheaper go-ahead. Compliance will have to be certified by the architect, and will be a real value-added service.

    We already do this for Permitted Development, but the scope for PD is limited today to small domestic extensions whereas it is proposed to be expanded to include commercial and other uses. Adding 'deemed' approvals as the green paper is suggesting may reduce the workload of planning departments but will increase that of architects and professional consultants.

    One of several worries is the proposed emasculation of the appeals system, the only bit which is presently working reasonably well. Appeals will only be available on one of two grounds: incorrect procedure or contravention of the local plan. So an imaginative development not anticipated in the plan, if not approved, will not be open to appeal but if granted can easily be appealed by opponents (as is proposed), which will make planning authorities even less likely to approve it in the first place. As serious block on innovation and economic development even if plans were ever to get up to date.

    Brian Waters
    Principal, BWCP; President Association of Consultant Architects and Vice Chairman (professions), National Planning Forum.

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