Analysis: The Government's Planning for the Future white paper

10th September 2020

Over the summer, the Secretary of State for Housing and Communities, Robert Jenrick, unveiled the Planning for the Future white paper

It promises to overhaul of “the outdated planning system and reform the way the country builds”.

With 38% of SME developers saying that the planning process is their main challenge, the Government hopes these changes will help get SME developers building. 

“[SME builders] will be key players in getting the country building on the scale needed to drive our economic recovery, while leading housebuilding that is beautiful and builds on local heritage and character.”


Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government

The Government have been talking about big changes for a while (even pre-lockdown), but they hope the new rules will have the added benefit of kickstarting the economy after coronavirus. 

There’s a lot in the white paper, but here are a few to look out for:

Introduction of Zoning

Instead of relying on planning applications, there’s talk of moving to a more US-style system of ‘zoning’.

Local authorities will provide stripped-back local plans (about a third of the current length) that zone all land into one of three categories: 

  • Growth: development will be approved as long as local design standards are met
  • Renewal: development is possible, with some projects benefiting from a “presumption in favour of development” – e.g. densification and infill development. Schemes that fit local design codes will benefit from a “fast track for beauty” scheme. 
  • Protection: development will be restricted

Plans will include design codes and will need to be adopted within thirty months. 

Even with a more rules-based planning system, buildings will still need to adhere to local design codes, and it’s impossible to see how this works without a planning application system of some kind. 


A New National Levy

Currently, development projects need to contribute to the wider community via Section 106 payments. But this could soon be scrapped and replaced with a new national levy that’s paid at the point of occupation. 

Presumably the hope is to encourage investment, and allow the fee to be paid once the properties are actually generating revenue (be that via sale or letting). It could cut one of the upfront costs of development, while still contributing to the wider community for new roads, parking, street lighting etc.

Councils will pay for infrastructure up front, but they will be able to borrow against future levy receipts – so everything is built to go from the start without the council being left out of pocket.


Amended Housing Targets

Local authority housing targets will now be set at the national level, rather than being drawn up locally.

There will be a new standard methodology to calculate housing need, with the hope being that this removes land supply as a barrier to housing. 

What these targets will look like remains to be seen, but you can see how local authorities are currently doing on their housing targets with our interactive heatmap.


Digitising the Planning System

The white paper talks about digitising planning, and making local plans machine readable. As a tech company, this has us pretty interested. It could be game-changing for the industry, but it’s hard to know what that will look like in practice. 

For instance, will all local council websites provide their local plans in the same format, or will there still be a fractured experience?

Digitising data means it’s available to more people, which should particularly benefit SME developers who don’t have the kind of time and resources it takes to sift through every piece of information manually themselves.

We’re optimistic on this one. But we’ll wait until we see the final result before celebrating too much..


Controversy from the White Paper

The white paper is currently out for consultation, and of course it has already received some criticism.

The RIBA have criticised the reforms, arguing that deregulation won’t solve the housing crisis. 

Environmentalists are worried that the new zoning system will do little to protect wildlife. 

But, perhaps most interestingly, there’s a big risk of a revolt from Conservative’s own backbenchers. Some rural politicians are worried that a fast-track process for development will take control from local communities, and mar the countryside.

And that’s to say nothing of the traditional Conservative voters themselves, who are likely to be the kind of people who make their opinions heard when it comes to local planning applications. And they’re likely to make their opinions heard on these reforms too...

With such a large majority, Boris Johnson can probably pass any legislation even with a rebellion from his own party. But is the political capital it will cost him really worth the fight?

Only time will tell, but expect this story to be in the news for months, if not years to come. And the final results? Well, that’ll take even longer to find out.


These are just talking points. But some things have already changed...

None of these changes have come into effect yet, but the Government have already started to reform planning with some pretty big changes.

In particular, on 1st September they introduced some pretty big changes to the use class system – arguably the biggest changes for a generation.

If you want to find out more, we’ve updated our Permitted Development Rights eBook to include all these changes, and look at how developers can get in on the action.


Tom is the Senior Product Manager here at LandTech. He’s a serious sports fanatic, and like many LandTech-ers, dreams of one day building his own house. He’s also an avid traveller, and his favourite trip involved rafting the Grand Canyon (even though he was hospitalised. Twice.)