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      The Wokingham Society

     Working to protect Wokingham town's past, present and future

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Government proposals on Planning for the Future

In August 2020 the Government issued a White Paper entitled Planning for the Future, setting out wide-ranging plans for reforming the planning system in England and Wales. It invited responses to a set of questions based on the proposals in its document. The Society’s Executive Committee’s reply can be seen here.

At the same time the Government consulted on its plans for future housing numbers. The Committee’s reply can be seen here.
These responses were very much in line with those submitted by Wokingham Borough Council, which was particularly opposed to the doubling of existing housing targets that would ensue for the Government’s proposed revised formula. Following, and perhaps as a result of, a by-election defeat, the formula was changed in response to objections, especially from MPs, that it runs counter to the ‘levelling up’ policies relating to the north of England.

The Government subsequently issued a third consultation paper on extending permitted development rights to all types of buildings, including those in conservation areas. Here is the Committee’s submission.

Subsequently much of the White Paper was shelved in order that a newly appointed Minister for Levelling Up could consult on and come forward with proposals for the planning system that would be likely to command parliamentary agreement. This has led to a Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill which moderates the original aims in the White Paper, especially in respect of retaining requirements for the local community to be consulted on draft local Plans and on major proposed developments.

More recently the appointment of a new Prime Minister leaves the fate of that Bill uncertain. Instead the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced in a mini-budget a relaxed planning restrictions in new “investment zones” and the Government entered into discussions with 38 local authorities to establish these investment zones.

In October 2023 a Levelling Up and Regeneration Act was given Royal assent. The Act is very long, at over 500 pages but few of the key provisions have actually come into force and a number of these will be subject to further regulations which will provide the detail.

In December the Minister for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Michael Gove, announced a revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), following a consultation process in which the Society had participated. Most measures had received majority support, including ours, since they aimed at streamlining the planning process but providing additional support to local planning authorities to achieve these intended outcomes.

In presenting the revised NPPF Mr Gove announced a series of actions to accompany the new plans.

Mr Gove said the Government would publish ‘robust league tables’ highlighting councils’ performance on housing delivery.

He warned councils that block legitimate development that they could be stripped of planning powers, adding that some were guilty of arbitrary refusal of planning permissions.

Mr Gove said the Government would publish “robust league tables” highlighting councils’ performance on delivery, which would show “how the system is gamed at the moment by some”.

Councils would be given a deadline of three months to identify and plan for projected housing needs in their areas, a short window for a process that has previously taken much longer.

Failure to meet the deadline could lead to development being imposed on local areas, Mr Gove said.
The Government’s planning reforms do not require councils to earmark greenbelt sites for potential development.

Despite the move to significantly tighten central control over local planning, councils will have some flexibilities under proposed exemptions in a new policy framework.

However councils will not be required to identify greenbelt land for possible housing.

Under the plans, development can also be blocked locally if the character of an area would be significantly altered.

Mr Gove said brownfield sites should be prioritised, with details on how to make this easier set to be announced next year.