By Kasia Banas, Consultant
There is a ‘chaotic patchwork’ of different planning responsibilities in the country, the long-awaited Raynsford Review of the planning system warned earlier this month.
The report, which provides “a holistic appraisal of the kind of planning system that England will need from 2020 onwards”, calls for a people-centred planning system, compatible with promoting the health, wellbeing and civil rights of communities.
The esteemed former Housing Minister Nick Raynsford identifies restoring public confidence in the planning system as one of our generation’s greatest challenges. He also stipulates that visionary planning should include measures to ensure that we meet the environmental challenges such as those arising from the threat of global warming.
The Review proposes a wide-ranging programme for a new system which can lead to greater certainty and coordination of investment, as well as protection and enhancement of people’s lives and well-being.
In the hopes of reducing inequality and inefficiency, it calls for seven “immediate actions”, which constitute part of a much more comprehensive, 24-point list of recommendations for change. Among the most significant of the “immediate actions” are:
The list of comprehensive recommendations for change includes calls for the government to:
Permitted development rights
One of the most commented on proposals has been the call to “immediately restrict” the use of permitted development rights, which have been branded as ‘toxic’.
Conversions of office spaces into residential units have been allowed since 2015 under permitted development rights and have contributed to about 10% of the new homes created between 2015-16 and 2016-17.
The number of new homes being brought forward through Permitted Development Rights has fallen dramatically over the last year however, with the latest stats showing a drop of 28% over the last year.
The government is currently consulting on extending these rights to high street shops, enabling their transition into residential units without planning permission.
Raynsford calls for ’return powers over permitted development to local government’, a postulate supported by the voices from the sector such as LGA’s Martin Tett or the chair of the housing, communities and local government committee Clive Betts who have also expressed their concerns around the policy’s disregard for local democracy.
Reception from the sector
The Review was met with a mixed reception and during the launch event in the House of Lords, Raynsford himself admitted the stark criticisms of the current planning system and the permitted development rights in particular, have divided opinion.
Another contentious issue has been the report’s support for the community right to challenge which has come under scrutiny because of its similarity to third party rights of appeal (TPRA).
Despite Raynsford’s assurances as to differences between what is proposed in his report and TPRA, Melanie Leech, chief executive of the British Property Federation, said BPF does not “support the introduction of this in any guise”. Leech also has campaigned against introducing a post-permission third party right of appeal, “as it will lead to more decisions made centrally, rather than locally, and clog up the planning system.”
Other criticisms revolved around issues of overwhelming focus on the south of England, lack of emphasis on leadership, support for neighbourhood plans or the feasibility of introducing any of the report’s recommendations.
However, Roberta Blackman-Woods, Labour’s shadow planning minister, expressed her and her party’s support for the review. She was joined by a number of lawyers, local community representatives, RICS representatives and voices from the sector such as RTPI and Shelter.
Raynsford is set to tour the country trying to meet people at all levels of government and business to introduce some of the report’s recommendations and gain a cross-party and cross-sector support for his proposals. Raynsford has his supporters but it seems he has a long way to go to gain widespread support for his proposals, figuratively and literally.
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