The call for planning reforms has become a hot topic in the media in the last few years. The affordable housing crisis – particularly in the south east – the Grenfell tower tragedy and other recent events, have put a spotlight on the planning system in the UK and left it vulnerable to scrutiny.
Homeowners, the Mayor of London and everyone in between, firmly believes they have the answers we need to optimise the planning system. Developers and homeowners argue that the planning system is laden with complicated procedures, unnecessary obstacles and restrictive planning laws that delay approvals. The local planning authorities claim developer land banking schemes are to blame for the current housing crisis. Meanwhile, the Torie led government spend their time pointing fingers at both developers and councils whilst they focus their efforts on working towards strengthening existing protections for Green Belt land.
Over the past few decades, the call for reforms has resulted in the planning system remaining in an almost constant state of flux. Every few years, minor policy changes are made in an effort to spur development sustainably. But is this constant tinkering enough to create a system that can effectively rise to the growing challenges of housing affordability, climate change and economic transformation? According to recent evidence, if we are to see the improvements we so desperately need, more drastic action will need to be taken.
A new report, ‘Capital Gains: A Better Land Assembly Model for London’, launched on May 14th , suggests that we should look to countries such as the Netherlands, Germany and the USA when reforming our planning policies, to speed up processes on land developments. The report, which was commissioned by Major Sadiq Khan, cited encountering obstacles in the land assembly process – the acquirement of multiple sites to form a single site for development or re-development – as one of the main things preventing the construction of more affordable homes in the capital.
The second report, however, takes the idea of reform one step further. On May 15th , former housing minister Nick Raynsford launched the Town Country Planning Association’s interim report of planning in England. Raynsford is currently heading a task force assigned to conduct a full review of the planning system. While the review is not scheduled to be published until the autumn, Raynsford was keen to share his views on the interim findings, saying that the current planning system is unfit for purpose, and anything less than a complete overhaul will prove to be inadequate.
It’s evident that tinkering with the current framework is unlikely to yield the results we need to rise to the current housing crisis. However, with the political uncertainty that the country will face in the wake of Brexit, it can also be argued that we simply aren’t in a position to be uprooting the entire planning system. The revised National Planning Policy Framework is scheduled to be published in the coming months, so we can only wait to see if the latest round of tinkering will be enough to help sustainably meet the housing needs of communities around the country.