Coalition Government plans for planning

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08 October 2010

This summer, several proposals to reform the planning system have hit the headlines as the Coalition Government pursues its localism agenda.  Most proposals stem from the Conservative pre-election green paper and aim to restore democratic and local control over the planning system, rebalance the system in favour of sustainable development, and produce a simpler, quicker, cheaper and less bureaucratic planning system.  We will not know much of the detail until the Decentralisation and Localism Bill is put before Parliament, due later this autumn.

Abolition of RSs

The proposal to abolish Regional Strategies (RSs) has caused the most controversy to date.  RSs bridged the gap between national and local planning policies, enabling a strategic approach to be taken to housing, waste, minerals, energy, transport and the environment.  Eric Pickles (Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government) revoked RSs in July and the sudden removal of this middle layer of policy has led to uncertainty for local planning authorities and developers alike.

RSs no longer form part of the development plan.  This is important because it is against the development plan (and material considerations) that all planning applications are judged.  If a recent application was justified by RS policy it is now questionable how much weight that policy support should be given.

Furthermore, local planning policies had to be compliant with the RS.  As they no longer exist, the drawing up of local policies by many councils all over England has stalled whilst parameters are reassessed.  

Of particular interest to many is the loss of regional housing targets.  In practice, local planning authorities will still need housing targets, but, in the absence of regional targets, they will be able to decide the targets for themselves.  The Government will seek to encourage local authorities to promote development using financial incentives. 

While the system readjusts, landowners with an eye on the development potential of their land, will want to keep an eye on, or better still become involved in, the new housing targets to be adopted by the local planning authority and the allocation of sites to enable those targets to be met.

Home on the Farm

The Government has announced it will promote “Home on the Farm” schemes to encourage farmers to convert existing disused or underused buildings into affordable rural housing.  This is expected to start this September, though detail of how these schemes will work, has to date, been lacking. 

Rural planning

Landowners will also want to keep tabs on the proposal for the designation of brownfield land to include land previously occupied by agricultural buildings to facilitate the development of disused buildings for other purposes.  This sits alongside a proposal to introduce rules within a national planning framework to prevent the development of the most fertile farmland in all but exceptional circumstances.  However, not much has been said about either of these since the election.

For further information contact Sophie Summers on 0117 307 6966 or email

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