SWTC response to Government White Paper on the Future of planning

The Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government is consulting on proposed changes to the planning system in a White Paper – Planning for the future.

The proposals seek to liberalise the planning system by removing planning decisions from local authorities and greatly strengthening the ability of housing developers to choose to build where they want. There is an ever-widening gap between numbers of planning permissions granted and numbers of new homes completed. Currently there are approximately 1,000,000 planning permissions for new homes granted but unused; despite this the government wants local authorities to make even more sites available.

The government proposals have been widely criticised including by expert bodies such as The Town and Country Planning Authority and the Royal Town Planning Institute. SWTC strongly objects to the details of the proposals, broadly because:

  • To streamline the planning system, the government proposes to remove decision making from local communities and centralise the planning process. This removes the ability of local communities, via their local councillors, to have a say in the changes to their built environment, which is anti-democratic.


  • Despite the opening statement that the proposals put a focus on design and sustainability, the proposals appear in fact to do no such thing. Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. The Consultation appears to retain the National Planning Policy Framework concept of sustainable development and we infer from this that the proposal is also to retain the NPPF definition of “sustainable”, which in practice means not sustainable at all – we are aware of virtually no development permitted under the NPPF which could be described as “sustainable” under the internationally understood definition, and sadly almost all current development is unsustainable within such a definition. We can see nothing in the White Paper to change this, and would like to see the White Paper / NPPF definition of “sustainable” completely rewritten, in line with the generally internationally accepted meaning of the term.


  • The proposed changes to the system of developer contributions to infrastructure will reinforce regional inequalities and will require local authorities to take on the upfront financial risk of infrastructure funding without any guarantee that the developer contributions ‘refunds’ will materialise. No reasonable authority would accept that risk on behalf of their taxpayers. While the current system has many flaws, this proposal would further worsen the outcome for communities and is by no means an improvement.


  • We do not agree with the proposals to introduce an algorithm which sets out future housing numbers; in the case of our district, transport links are poor, sustainable transport links are extremely limited, and employment sites are few and far between, with most people out-commuting. Given the lack of transport infrastructure, the district is generally unattractive for new employers and will remain so. Despite this, the currently proposed Government algorithm would make us the fastest growing district outside London. The housing target for Uttlesford is vastly in excess of demand, which will just increase the extent of commuting in the absence of local jobs. 

Read the full response here

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Posted on 09/10/2020