On the 30th July 2020, PM Boris Johnson indicated his intention to radically reform the planning system in a way never before seen since WWII. Some might wonder how far reaching the PM's proposals are going to be, given that only ten years ago, Greg Clark MP announced some arguably radical proposals which sought to reduce over 1,000 pages of policy, into a succinct 50-page National Planning Policy Framework. The jury is still out on whether this change helped streamline development.
Reading around the PM’s glossy headline figures of financial expenditure, it seems that the primary goal is one of seeking to further reduce the amount of paperwork involved in the planning process. The PM stated that :-
‘we will build fantastic new homes on brownfield sites’,
‘we will insist on beautiful and low carbon homes’,
‘we will build better and build greener but we will also build faster’.
He went on to say, ‘to that end we will build, build, build back better build back greener build back faster’.
Regardless of one’s views on the PM’s speech, one thing that we should all remember is the inescapable logic underpinning the eloquent quality, time, cost triangle. If we are to produce ‘fantastic new homes’ which are ‘beautiful and low carbon’ and ‘greener and faster built’, then we must prepare to spend, spend, spend!
Unfortunately, the reality is that since 2010 spending on Local Authority Planning Departments has dropped by 50%. Regardless of whether the system requires reform, there will be a requirement for significant investment if the PM’s lofty ambitions are to be realised.
Notwithstanding the PM’s speech, quality developments are already capable of benefiting under the existing system. Paragraph 124 of the NPPF, within the Achieving Well-Designed Places chapter states, ‘The creation of high-quality buildings and places is fundamental to what the planning and development process should achieve’.
As specialists in delivering isolated residential developments of exceptional quality under paragraph 79e of the NPPF, we are familiar with the importance of outstanding design. However, paragraph 131 is a lesser known policy that applies to any form of development and provides ‘great weight’ to outstanding or innovative designs which promote high levels of sustainability or help raise the standard of design more generally in an area. Indeed, a recent appeal decision confirmed this to be the case for a site near Warwick in December 2019. The Inspector also confirmed that the qualifying criteria in paragraph 79e, (truly outstanding), is not as strict within paragraph 131, for it omits the word ‘truly’. The bar is therefore lower when targeting paragraph 131.
There are countless appeal decisions confirming the benefit of having an independent design review panel assess a proposed development. In accordance with paragraph 129 of the NPPF, Local Planning Authorities (LPA) should have regard to any recommendations made by the panel. Therefore, a favourable and supportive judgement should greatly assist the chances of success.
With LPA budgets in dire straits, and only a few lucky Authorities still having access to in-house professional design advice, it is predicted that the PM’s ambition of delivering fantastic, beautiful and greener developments will only be realised through an increased consideration by professional, independent design review panels.
Written by Daniel Gender-Sherry, Director and Founder of Axiom Planning.