Construction Consultant, Paul Nash, recently joined Housing Minister, Christopher Pincher MP, and a panel of experts from the built environment professional bodies, to discuss planning reform and its role in delivering the right quality and quantity of housing.
In this article, he shares some of his thoughts on this important issue.
A recording of the event can be viewed here.
Any debate about the need to reform the planning process must begin with a recognition of the delays that applicants are experiencing at all stages in the development process and the impact that this is having on delivery.
Whether securing a pre-app, determining a planning application, obtaining a discharge of conditions before and during construction, or determining an appeal, getting decisions from planning officers and inspectors is taking far too long.
But I want to emphasise that this has nothing to do with the commitment or capability of local authority planning officers. I genuinely believe that they are trying to do their best.
The issue is a lack of resources. This was made clear in a research paper that was published by the Royal Town Planning Institute in July 2019 entitled ‘Resourcing Public Planning’ which called for ‘significantly increased resourcing to deliver better development management, strong and informed planning policy, genuine community participation, pro-active local authority-led development and a wider range of built environment professionals in the public sector’.
The paper also identified the shift towards more planners working in the private sector over the last decade.
In responding to the Housing Communities & Local Government Select Committee on the future of the planning system, my own professional body, the Chartered Institute of Building, called for a clear and comprehensive resourcing plan to address the situation and went further to highlight a concern that the additional duties and responsibilities on Local Planning Authorities proposed in the ‘Planning for the Future’ White Paper would only serve to exacerbate the situation.
What is clear is that investment in local authority planning is urgently needed to meet the Government’s stated targets for housing delivery.
Permitted Development Rights [PDR]
There is already evidence that, without sufficient controls in place, PDR can lead to poor quality homes with inadequate space and insufficient natural light. This is a particular issue where offices are being converted to housing, something they were simply not designed for.
The professional bodies have lobbied for the adoption of defined standards for space and daylight and have secured a commitment from Government to include these standards in any new PDR system. As always, the devil will be in the detail, but it is a step in the right direction.
In the meantime it has been suggested that the Government might want to look at longer-term, more sustainable solutions that ‘build in’ flexibility for alternate uses at the planning stage.
This so-called ‘seed planning’ approach to planning and design has already been adopted in other urban areas such as Amsterdam, and the results are encouraging.
It is also an approach that lends itself to modular, off-site solutions, and therefore sits well with the Government’s drive towards the adoption of modern methods of construction [MMC].
We know that the housebuilding sector has a poor record when it comes to the quality of new-build homes. And we should not underestimate the impact that this continues to have on people’s lives and livelihoods.
In February this year, the Government launched the New Homes Quality Board with the purpose of driving up quality and service standards in the house building industry.
And the Building Safety Bill, published in July this year, includes provisions for a new home’s ombudsman scheme.
But I fear that unless and until we change the culture of the industry and address the issues of skills, we will continue to face issues with poor quality homes and a focus on achieving housing targets should not, cannot, be at the expense of quality.
And whilst MMC can be part of the solution, it is not the panacea that it is often promoted as, and we still have a way to go.
In July this year, the Government published the Building Safety Bill which sets out the requirements for a new building safety regime for high rise residential buildings, known in the Bill as ‘Higher Risk Buildings’.
Although the Bill is expected to receive Royal Assent next year, the Government has already started to amend existing legislation to enact the proposals described in the Bill.
On the 1st August, Parliament passed an amendment to The Town and Country Planning Act that introduced ‘Planning Gateway 1’ to ensure that fire safety matters, as they relate to land use planning, are incorporated at the planning stage for schemes involving a relevant high-rise residential building.
But there is a need to ensure that building safety is adequately considered at the planning stage for all buildings, not just Higher Risk Buildings. And that needs to apply to PDR as well.
The priority must be ensuring that people are safe, and feel safe, in their homes. And we should not wait for legislation to tell us when, and how, to do that.
- A clear and comprehensive resourcing plan that addresses the need for investment in local authority planning.
- A commitment to ensuring that quality is ‘built in’ to the planning process, and this particularly applies to PDR.
- A commitment to ensuring that building safety is adequately considered at the planning stage for all buildings, not just Higher Risk Buildings. And that needs to apply to PDR as well.
(Pictured: Housing Minister, Chris Pincher MP with Paul Nash)
Paul Nash MSc FCIOB