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At a glance: government's proposed planning changes


Read the AJ’s at-a-glance breakdown of the government’s proposed changes to the planning system, announced earlier today

The government has revealed a raft of new initiatives as part of its new productivity drive which it hopes will increase the rate of housebuilding across the country.

In a major new policy document published today, Fixing the foundations: creating a more prosperous nation, the government claims the country’s ‘excessively strict planning system’ was preventing land and other resources from being used efficiently, increasing cost and uncertainty for developers and raising barriers to entry.

Here are the main recommendations from the 90-page report.

The key proposals in the report


  • New powers for the Mayor of London to call in planning applications of 50 homes or more - a reduction from the current 150 threshold
  • Need for planning permission removed for upwards extensions up to the height of an adjoining building
  • Tightening the planning performance regime and penalising local authorities which make 50 per cent or fewer of decisions on time
  • Extension to the performance regime for minor applications. Introducing a fast-track certificate process for establishing the principle of development
  • Introduction of a dispute resolution mechanism for section 106 agreements, ‘to speed up negotiations and allow housing starts to proceed more quickly’


  • New policies to support higher density housing around key commuter hubs
  • Investigations into how ‘national policy and guidance can ensure’ unneeded commercial land is released for housing
  • Extension of Right-to-Buy to Housing Associations

Local plans

  • Allowing government to intervene and draft local plans
  • New proposals to ‘significantly streamline’ the length and process of local plans along with strengthened guidance to improve the operation of the duty to cooperate on key housing and planning issues

Zonal system

  • Introduction of a zonal system for brownfield land allowing automatic permission in principle on brownfield sites identified as suitable


  • Legislation to allow major infrastructure projects with an element of housing to apply through the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Regime (NSIP)

Zero carbon standards

  • End to the Zero Carbon Allowable Solutions offsetting scheme, and the proposed 2016 increase in on-site energy efficiency standards

The RIBA’s response

On the introduction of a zonal system
‘Initiatives that help speed up the development of brownfield sites are welcome. However, we need to make sure that this move doesn’t have a negative impact on design and build quality. The Government should look at how design codes have helped drive high standards under lighter-touch regulatory systems and make sure that robust safeguards are in place to ensure that new developments are accompanied by the right economic and social infrastructure.’

On powers to allow Government to intervene and draft local plans
‘It is right that the Government pushes for faster adoption of local plans which promote sustainable development. We hope that this has an impact on current negotiations on local plans. Too many of the current local plans being proposed are failing to identify enough land for new housing. This is placing an unnecessary block on economic growth.’

On penalties for local authorities
‘Procedural delays in local authority planning departments, particularly the validation of planning applications, are holding up schemes across England and are a growing source of frustration for many architects and their clients. Actions that address these blocks would be very welcome.’However, with planning appeals already taking up to 18 months to reach a resolution, the Government needs to ensure that this doesn’t lead to delays elsewhere in the planning system.’

On the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Regime (NSIP)
The RIBA is very pleased that the Government has recognised that housing is a key infrastructure issue. We hope that the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) will use its new role, as the department for architecture, to promote good design in the housing schemes bought forward under these proposals.’



Readers' comments (6)

  • You missed out what the RIBA President was reported in the Times to have said about the budget changes: "a significant step forward in tackling the economic damage to the UK’s competitiveness created by the housing crisis".

    Oh yes?

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  • Could be summarised as "quantity not quality" then. And a powerful response from RIBA, oh no, my mistake.

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  • There is scant evidence that the planning system is an obstacle to development. On the contrary there are housebuilders in possession of large sites who, by their own admission, will develop them gradually rather than build and sell the homes off quickly, It is in their business interest to do this. But what it means for the country is that developers are sitting on land for houses that could be put on the market and relieve the housing shortage. It shows the need for the state to take charge of developing large sites so that not all the homes are under the control of the big house builders.
    As for localism--- RIP.

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  • Richard Saxon

    The right to buy Housing Association units will, in blocks of flats, create the slums of the future. Instead of redevelopment at expiry of economic life, the blocks will be frozen and harder to maintain. This is a dumb policy justified purely by vote-buying.

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  • I suspect Richard S is right. I predict that realistic service charges (to provide for proper maintenance, renewals and replacements) would be unaffordable for many private lessees in such accommodation. Bread and circuses.

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  • Isn't there already a presumption to favour development on brownfield sites with most local authorities? I would trust that due process must still be followed to address infrastructure, context and build quality. Which surely means that the zonal system is just a sound bite. Or if it is genuinely the intention to shortcut the process, then it would appear to be plain daft and potentially dangerous.

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