Thank you for contacting me about the Planning Bill.
Everyone deserves a place to call their own and I welcome efforts to make home ownership accessible to even more people. While house prices have soared since the Millennium, with England seeing an increase at one of the fastest rates in Europe, the planning system has been a barrier to building homes which are affordable, where families want to raise children and build their lives.
By the age of 30, those born between 1981 and 2000 are half as likely to be homeowners as those who were born between 1946 and 1965. It is clear that too many young people are being locked out from the benefits of capitalism.
Let me assure you that strengthening environmental protections and enhancing the Green Belt remains at the heart of approaches to reforming the planning system. These reforms will not change the existing strong protections already in place for our Green Belt and greenfield sites. The Planning Bill will further reinforce the commitment to maintaining our unique heritage through a requirement for new housing to be built in respect of the local environment.
The Planning Bill also seeks to decrease the time that it takes for developments to go through the planning system, ensuring that homes and infrastructure across England can be delivered more quickly – and I completely agree with you that improvements to vital infrastructure must be both effective and sustainable.
Our current planning system is the single largest barrier to delivering the homes we need in this country, and I welcome that reforms will make the system more accessible. In doing this, locally-elected councillors will be given control over what to build where – extending participation and empowering local communities to shape their own future.
I am delighted that the Bill will make the design of homes and neighbourhoods central to plan making. Under its provisions, local communities will be able to develop their own locally popular design codes which will be transformed into the standard for all new buildings and public spaces in their area. This approach is already being piloted in 14 local councils across England, and has been the gold standard for many new developments such as those built by the Duchy of Cornwall. On top of this, measures are being introduced to harness the value of digital plan making in order to engage local communities with the planning system in a more active and meaningful manner.
Jobs and infrastructure: Crucially, the ambitious reforms set out in the Planning Bill will support the creation of more jobs – from labourers and manufacturers to plumbers and fitters. Simplifying and modernising the planning system will reduce the barriers which currently stand in the way of many smaller enterprises engaging with the system. The Bill’s new infrastructure levy will also support smaller developers, as well as councils and communities, by providing transparency and certainty and limiting costly negotiations.
Villages and Local Democracy
I recognise your concerns about the impact of proposed planning reforms on villages. I would, however, like to point out that the reforms which the Government consulted upon seek to give neighbourhoods and communities an earlier and more meaningful voice in the future of their areas as local plans are made. I have been assured by Ministers that these reforms will protect and enhance our green spaces, while bolstering local democracy by extending participation in the engagement process to all - and placing more of a focus on the local plan.
It must be made clear that there will still be an ongoing role for the existing planning application process. These reforms will not see that system go away – simply strengthen the role of the local plan. Where applicants wish to vary from the local plan, they will need to make a full planning application in the usual way.
The Planning Bill will make the design of homes and neighbourhoods central to plan making, giving local people and their elected representatives a hugely improved and much greater opportunity to shape the future of their communities. This will mean that local aesthetics will reflect the preferences of residents rather than developers. Local planning authorities will therefore see their plan-making powers considerably strengthened, which I believe will serve to bolster local democracy and empower local communities to shape their future in real, practical ways.
I would like to point out that areas of significant flood risk will be categorised as ‘protected’ areas under the planning reforms set out in the Government’s Planning for the Future consultation. This builds on the clear guidance set out in the National Planning Policy Framework that inappropriate development in areas at current or future risk of flooding should be avoided by directing development towards areas at least risk.
Communities and local authorities will also benefit from greater standardisation of technical support information about flood risks under proposed reforms to the planning system. The Planning Bill will see jargon-laden and technical several-thousand-page documents replaced with readily-understandable easy to navigate and succinct assessments.
Let me assure you that the Government is committed to increasing the availability of affordable housing and has delivered over 517,000 affordable homes in the past decade. On top of this, over £12 billion of investment has been committed - further unlocking £38 billion in public and private affordable housing investment, which I am told is the largest investment in affordable housing in a decade. I believe this serves to underscore the importance of the issue you raise.
By the age of 30 those born between 1981 and 2000 are half as likely to be homeowners as those who were born between 1946 and 1965. That is why I am glad that reforms will be implemented to make our planning system fit for the 21st century. As part of the reforms set out in the Planning for the Future consultation, a new Infrastructure Levy was proposed which will allow local planning authorities to drive up the provision of affordable homes. I welcome that the Levy aims to raise more revenue than under the current system of developer contributions, and to deliver at least as much on-site affordable housing as at present.
I believe that these reforms will make our planning system fit for the 21st century and leave future generations with an inheritance of environmental improvement and infrastructure that meets the needs of individual communities.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.
Craig Whittaker MP