The report highlights the vital role planning needs to play to deliver sustainable economic development in the context of the pressures of a growing population, rising incomes, changing demographics, climate change and the competitive challenges of rapid changes in the global economy. Kate Barker makes recommendations to improve the responsiveness, efficiency and transparency of the planning system so that it can fulfil its potential. Speaking today she said:
"The planning system has a profound impact on our quality of life, but the current system will come under increasing pressures in the coming decade. Building on recent reforms, the recommendations in my report provide a comprehensive set of measures to ensure we have a planning system that is timely, transparent, flexible and responsive enough to meet the challenges that lie ahead.
"Businesses, residents and others want a system that can continue to secure economic prosperity alongside vital social and environmental goals. I believe this reform package, if enacted, can help create this world-class planning system."
The report recognises the high costs placed on developers, businesses and communities when the planning system is unnecessarily slow, unpredictable, expensive and bureaucratic. The report recommends streamlining of planning policies and processes to improve speed, transparency and efficiency. These include:
- substantial rationalisation of national planning guidance to provide a clearer and more transparent national policy framework;
- improving local plan-making processes so plans can be drawn up in 18-24 months not the current 36-42. This could save local authorities over £100 million over a three-year period;
- a more risk-based and proportionate approach to regulation, with significant reduction in the paperwork required to support applications. This will help reduce private sector planning fees (over £200 million a year) and consultancy fees (over £300 million a year);
- greater certainty of timescales with new, individually tailored delivery agreements between planning authorities and developers;
- faster processing of appeals: from 2008/09 all appeals should take place within six months, and the use of a new Planning Mediation Service to resolve disputes outside of appeal proceedings;
- a significant reduction in the number of cases suffering delays due to Ministerial call-in, with 50% fewer call-ins from 2007; and
- in line with the findings of the Eddington Study of Transport, a radical overhaul of the planning system for major infrastructure projects, including transport, waste and energy, to improve speed and certainty. Ministers should, following full consultation, set out statements of strategic objectives. Decisions on individual applications would then be taken by a new expert independent Planning Commission.
The Report makes a number of recommendations to enhance the flexibility and responsiveness of the planning system to support sustainable economic growth for the 300,000 business applications a year. These include:
- allowing minor changes to commercial premises - including the use of microgeneration technology such as small wind turbines and solar panels- to proceed without requiring updating planning policy guidance on economic development for the first time in 14 years to clarify that full account of the economic benefits of development applications should be taken in decision-making;
- ensuring plans and decision-makers take better account of relevant price and market signals, such as land prices for different uses; and
- promoting more positive planning within the plan-led system by ensuring, when plans are indeterminate, that applications are approved unless there is good reason to believe the economic, social or environmental costs of development outweigh the benefits.
The Report also sets out proposals for a more efficient use of land in the context of the population, projected to rise to 55 million by 2026, including:
- encouraging a high proportion of new development into towns and urban areas through support for the town-centre first policy and use of fiscal policy to encourage empty property to be put into use, and to incentivise the use of vacant previously developed land;
- greater mixed use designations in plans and a more positive approach to applications for change of use to reflect the changing needs of the UK's flexible, service-based economy;
- ensuring sufficient supply of land for the proportion of development that cannot take place in towns and cities. With only around 8.3% of land currently classified as urban, this can be achieved while protecting land of high environmental or social value. This development should take place in locations that are best from an environmental perspective- where this is near existing towns and cities green belt boundaries should be reviewed by regional and local planning authorities to limit the increased emissions and pollution caused by commuters "jumping" the green belt; and
- protecting valued green space in urban areas and taking a more positive approach to applications that enhance the quality of the 13.5% of land in the UK classified as green belt land through creating new accessible parkland or woodland.