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Planning Reforms May Include New Design Codes - Which Could Affect Self Builders

Planning reforms latest
(Image credit: Future)

The planning reforms scheduled for this year could include a National Model Design Code to improve the beauty, quality and design of homes in England. 

The code is part of a suite of documents which the government has published to create new national planning standards, and will include a 10-point checklist of design principles for councils to consider when approving new developments.

The code also includes references to custom and self build, with accompanying guidance underlying how design codes can encourage self build and custom build developments. 

In response to the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission's 'Living in Beauty' report published in January, the government has also proposed revisions to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPFF), which are under consultation until 27 March 2021. 

The changes to the NPPF would make it mandatory for councils to adopt design codes, but also propose other actions, such as ensuring developments improve the environment and mitigate climate change.

The proposals pave the way for the new planning reforms, which are expected to be introduced in parliament later this year.

What are the Planning Reforms?

The planning reforms introduced in August 2020 proposed sweeping changes to the planning system and how planning permission would be obtained.

Having been proposed in the summer white paper 'Planning For The Future', the reforms have been criticised on several fronts. 

In autumn last year, a number of Conservative MPs expressed reservations over a proposed new affordable housing formula within the proposals, which they said would prospectively shrink the availability of affordable housing in the north of England.

Consequently, new plans published in December confirmed that the algorithm had been reversed. 

Planning application

CPRE warns that the planning reforms do not do enough to protect the countryside (Image credit: Getty Images)

The new formula will prioritise building on brownfield sites and protecting the countryside, and homebuilders will be encouraged to make the most of vacant buildings and underused land to build more family homes. 

The plans will also encourage homebuilding in England’s 20 largest cities and urban areas, and the government will establish a new principle to ensure funding for new homes is not just concentrated in London and the South East.

An updated method will now be introduced to help the government deliver its target of 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s.

Algorithm Update is 'Not Enough'

But while CPRE, formerly known as the countryside charity, welcomed the algorithm update, it says this is just the tip of the iceberg, and the government needs to address the wider implications of its proposals.

Paul Miner, head of land use & planning at CPRE, said: "The problem with the proposed zonal systems is that they are too simplified. There are no safeguards to protect rural areas, and this puts pressure on rural areas to build homes."

Housing minister Christopher Pincher insists that the government will protect the green belt, and discussions are now underway to ensure that communities are not left behind regarding the development of housing.  

Mr Pincher also confirmed that a new Environment Bill will be brought before parliament this year and, if passed, will be embedded into the planning reforms. 

When Will the Reforms be Published?

Before the reforms are brought before parliament, a considerable 44,000 responses issued in a consultation over the reforms, which closed in January, still need to be reviewed.

Mr Pincher confirmed at a virtual debate in January that the planning reforms require more work before being introduced.

It is expected that the reforms will be passed into law in 2021. 

Planning Reforms Would 'Result in Disaster'

A primary source of conflict from the reforms is the proposal to simplify the role of local planning authorities. 

The government recommends that a form of zone planning should be introduced which will classify land for either growth, renewal or protection. Land in growth areas will benefit from automatic permission, while land in urban renewal areas will be granted permission in principle.

But a report led by CPRE says this would hand power to developers and, according to CPRE, "result in disasters for our local democracy, the environment and the climate".

The report, titled 'Vision for Planning', which is backed by a coalition of 18 British countryside and environmental group, calls on the government to adapt its planning reforms proposals to better protect the countryside and rural areas.

The paper makes 11 recommendations to reform the planning system, which include introducing legislation to ensure sustainable development, and revoking Permitted Development rights that have led to poor quality conversions to housing.

Tom Fyans, CPRE deputy chief executive, said: "We’re calling on the government to plan back better and work with us to develop a planning system that puts people, and tackling the climate and ecological emergencies, at its heart." 

Brownfield funding in planning reforms

New brownfield site funding for self builders has been announced (Image credit: Getty Images)

Brownfield Land Pledge

In the December review of the planning refoms, the government also announced £100m of new funding from January to help self builders build on brownfield sites.

The £100m Brownfield Land Release fund will support brownfield development, and help bring forward the development of self and custom build serviced plots.

The funding follows the November Spending Review, which pledged support for self build, and this funding will be targeted at improving access to brownfield plots for those who want to build their own home.   

“A significant portion of this new £100m will go to supporting self and custom builders - a growing sector which the government is committed to,” the government said.

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick also confirmed that the government will also:

  • Allocate more than £67 million in funding to the West Midlands and Greater Manchester Mayoral Combined Authorities to help them deliver new homes on brownfield land
  • Revise the so-called ‘80/20 rule’ which guides how much funding is available to local areas to help build homes
  • Create a new Urban Centre Recovery Task Force to advise on the development and regeneration of towns and city centres.