Welwyn Hatfield considers proposed overhaul of planning system which aims to ‘cut red tape and deliver homes faster’

A site in Bell Bar, BrP1, which is included in the draft Local Plan. Picture: BLAG

A site in Bell Bar, BrP1, which is included in the draft Local Plan. Picture: BLAG - Credit: Archant

The most comprehensive overhaul of the local planning system since the Second World War has been unveiled by the government and Welwyn Hatfield will be submitting its views.

Welwyn Hatfield Labour leader Cllr Kieran Thorpe. Picture: Supplied by Cllr Thorpe

Welwyn Hatfield Labour leader Cllr Kieran Thorpe. Picture: Supplied by Cllr Thorpe - Credit: Archant

England’s historic planning process is set to be replaced with a new ‘rules-based system’ and the creation of ‘fast-track’ tickets which will give so-called beautiful developments automatic planning permission.

In its ‘Planning for the Future’ white paper, published yesterday, the government has revealed how it aims to “streamline the planning process, cut red tape and harness technology to deliver homes faster” – with housing secretary Robert Jenrick calling the current planning system “a barrier to building the homes people need”.

The reformed system will propose that local authorities designate all land in their areas as being either for “growth”, “renewal” or “protection”. Sites earmarked for growth will then receive automatic planning permission if developers abide by locally drawn-up design guides.

Crucially, under the new system, local authorities – such as Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council – will be required to draw up their Local Plans within 30 months, which will be down from the several years that the draft Local Plan is still being considered in our borough.

Cllr Tony Kingsbury is council leader at Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council. Picture: WHBC

Cllr Tony Kingsbury is council leader at Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council. Picture: WHBC - Credit: Archant

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The new rules-based system aims to simplify and speed up the house-building process, and reduce the number of planning cases that get overturned at appeal – with Mr Jenrick criticising the current system as “discretionary rather than rules-based”.

Leader of Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council, Cllr Tony Kingsbury, said: “We will need to look at the details in the white paper carefully to understand the implications for planning services and our Local Plan in Welwyn Hatfield and will be doing so in the weeks ahead.

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“We will set out our views in the council’s response to the consultation, which will also be published on our website.”

The new system is also designed to boost the share of houses built by small and medium-sized building firms, which built 40 per cent of new homes 30 years ago – but only 12 per cent today.

Mr Jenrick added: “It takes seven years to agree local housing plans, and five years just to get a spade in the ground. These once in a generation reforms will lay the foundations for a brighter future, providing more homes for young people and creating better quality neighbourhoods and homes across the country.

“We will cut red tape – but not standards – placing a higher regard on quality, design and the environment than ever before. Planning decisions will be simple and transparent, with local democracy at the heart of the process.”

Controversially however, the plans also propose scrapping so-called ‘Section 106’ agreements, which have enabled local authorities to compel developers to provide a certain proportion of affordable housing on new sites, and contribute to local infrastructure.

Many amenities in Welwyn Hatfield, for example, have been provided through these agreements including a plan for a skate park as part of the new Wheat Quarter development and a maintained green space at Ellenbrook and Panshanger Parks.

Welwyn Hatfield Labour group leader Cllr Kieran Thorpe explains the Conservatives, who have opposed planning in their backyard, now “want to get rid of councils responsible for local planning, and shred planning regulations that are there to protect the character of the places we live. You couldn’t make this stuff up”

“This isn’t about helping people build extensions to their homes or making processes quicker, its about benefiting wealthy development companies and minimizing the ability of local people to have any say in what goes on in the places they live. Take back control? They certainly are.”

Respresenting the Lib Dems, borough councillor Jane Quinton points out that 90 per cent of all planning applications are passed and the delay is often in the hands of the developers.

“Instead of giving local people oversight of what happens in their neighbourhood, they are told to trust the government to build beautiful homes. We still haven’t seen a single one of the 200,000 starter homes the Tories promised in 2015 so bitter experience tells us they don’t meet their promises.

“The government will define the minimum standards no doubt in partnership with the large construction companies and we are expected to believe they will provide the highest standards. We only have to look at some of the slum-like office conversions already seen in parts of the country to guess how that will work.

“This free-for-all will see no coherent planning for new communities, no guarantee of adequate infrastructure to support the new homes and no guarantee that polluting industries and incinerators for example won’t be built next to homes and schools.

“The biggest question is where our social and affordable homes will come from. This country is desperately short of these homes, especially social rented homes for ordinary people who simply don’t earn enough to buy a house at market prices.”

Polly Neate, CEO of Shelter, the housing and homelessness charity, said: “Decades of political decisions have left social housing gravely endangered. If the government now removes the requirement for developers to build their fair share, it could face extinction.

“Over a million households on waiting lists for social homes risk having their hopes dashed. Section 106 agreements between developers and councils are tragically one of the only ways we get social homes built these days, due to a lack of direct government investment. It makes no sense to remove this route to genuinely affordable homes without a guaranteed alternative.”

Alan Jones, president of the Royal Institute of British Architects, said: “While there is no doubt the planning system needs reform, these shameful proposals do almost nothing to guarantee the delivery of affordable, well-designed and sustainable homes.”

However, Mr Jenrick believes the new system will usher in a new democratic process of home-building fit for the 21st century.

“We are moving away from notices on lampposts to an interactive and accessible map-based online system placing planning at the fingertips of people,” he said. “The planning process will be brought into the 21st century. Communities will be reconnected to a process that is supposed to serve them, with residents more engaged over what happens in their areas.

“Local democracy and accountability will now be enhanced by technology and transparency.”

To view the new plans in full, visit gov.uk/government/uploads/system/PlanningConsultation.pdf.

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