23rd October 2020
Consultation Response Sent By Email From The Head Of Planning Policy and Economic Development.
Planning for the Future – Consultation on proposals for reform of the planning system in England
Thank you for your invitation to make a representation on the Government’s consultation on the ‘White Paper: Planning for the Future’ that has been open for consultation between 6 August 2020 and 29 October 2020.
The consultation seeks views on each part of a package of proposals for reform of the planning system in England to streamline and modernise the planning process, improve outcomes on design and sustainability, reform developer contributions and ensure more land is available for development where it is needed.
This letter refers to questions that have been posed within the consultation document and is the Council’s formal response to the proposed changes to the planning system.
Question 1. What three words do you associate most with the planning system in England?
There was no consensus on the ‘three’ specific words that Members of the Council would associate most with the current planning system.
That said, we agree with the Government there is scope to reform the current system to be simpler and faster in delivering positive outcomes. As ever, with reforms to the planning system, the success of any change will turn on its detailed implementation, with which we look forward to engaging with Government.
Question 4. What are your top three priorities for planning in your local area? [Building homes for young people / building homes for the homeless / Protection of green spaces / The environment, biodiversity and action on climate change / Increasing the affordability of housing / The design of new homes and places / Supporting the high street / Supporting the local economy / More or better local infrastructure / Protection of existing heritage buildings or areas / Other – please specify
The Council’s current Corporate Plan (2019-23) provides 8 key aims for Wealden and these includes the following issues:
- Protect and enhance Wealden’s high quality natural environment and heritage;
- Promote a better quality of life for Wealden people through activities that improve health, resilience and well-being;
- Improve access to essential services for all our communities;
- Ensure development meets future needs, with associated investment in infrastructure;
- Take advantage of opportunities to promote new, cleaner technologies;
- Work with partners to regenerate our diverse market towns, creating jobs and attracting investment;
- Support our local businesses and entrepreneurs to achieve a locally sustainable economy; and
- Generate ongoing sources of income to reinvest in local priorities and optimise funding from external sources.
Given the aims above, which concentrate on the natural environment, economy and the social well-being of our communities, the Council suggests that the following three issues from the list presented are a priority for the new Local Plan:
- The environment, biodiversity and action on climate change;
- The design of new homes and places; and
- Supporting the local economy.
Proposal 1, Question 5. Do you agree that Local Plans should be simplified in line with our proposals?
The Council supports the Government’s continued commitment within the White Paper to have a plan led system with Local Plans having a central role in the shaping the future development of local authority areas.
In relation to the specific proposals for ‘Growth’, ‘Renewal’ and ‘Protected’ areas, we see these as an evolution of the existing designations within a Local Plan that roughly translate to ‘site allocations’, ‘development boundaries’ and ‘protected sites / open countryside’. However, the Council does have some specific comments to make on the consequences of the simplified three part land designations proposed.
The proposed ‘protected’ areas include a range of sites designated for their biodiversity, landscape and heritage value as well as flood risk. The ‘protected’ designation would also include open countryside outside of ‘growth’ or ‘renewal’ areas. Within these categories, there is a very wide range of policy protections within the current National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which reflects the statutory status or recognised importance at international, national or local levels of those particular designations. It is noted that not all designated sites are equally protected within the existing NPPF.
Designating all these areas as ‘protected’ within a Local Plan may mask these very real differences between designated areas and raises expectations that each of these designations will be treated the same. Despite the proposed signposting to relevant development restrictions in the NPPF, it would not be unreasonable to assume that ‘protected’ areas designated within a Local Plan will not see significant levels of development over the plan period. However, the retention of the Housing Delivery Test (HDT) and the presumption in favour of sustainable development (tilted balance) in the new planning system means that ‘protected’ areas designated within a Local Plan may still come forward for development under certain circumstances.
For example, a local planning authority may designate sufficient land to meet its binding housing target in ‘growth’ and ‘renewal’ areas within a Local Plan and yet later fails the (retained) HDT measurement. This would in turn activate the (retained) presumption in favour of sustainable development and sites at the edge of existing settlements outside of ‘growth’ or ‘renewal’ areas with the lowest level of protection in the revised NPPF would still become susceptible to speculative housing development.
In Wealden, we have a wide range of sites that are protected for their landscape or biodiversity value. Over 53% of the district (to the north) is covered by the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). The district also contains the Ashdown Forest Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and Special Protection Area (SPA) as well as the Pevensey Levels SAC/Ramsar site, a number of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and one of the greatest concentration of ancient woodland in the country. These areas have high levels of national and/or international protection and as such, much of our planned future growth would therefore be directed to the Low Weald, which is a broad low-lying clay vale that extends through the middle/southern part of the district.
Designating countryside in the Low Weald as ‘protected’ may raise expectations within our communities that these areas of the district will be treated the same as our international and national protected sites. However, adverse HDT results would bring in the presumption of sustainable development and this may mean that additional development would come forward in nominally ‘protected’ areas, for reasons that are beyond the control of the local planning authority (such as build out rates, downturns in the economy etc.). The simplified ‘protected’ designation signals that little or no development over the plan period but the new planning system would create circumstances where ‘protected’ areas may actually provide the location for significant new development. Any failure to make this clear to the general public may undermine trust in the planning system.
The inclusion of conservation areas in ‘protected’ areas is also problematic. Conservation areas are usually found within settlements and are often at the historic core of those settlements. Currently, these areas may be suitable for new development provided it preserves or enhances the character and appearance of the conservation area, or the harm to the significance of the conservation area is outweighed by public benefits. The inclusion of conservation areas within the ‘protected’ area designation could also create confusion if development cannot come forward or, if the current national planning policy is applied, will similarly misdirect people to think development will not be allowed when it may be supported, which will further undermine trust in the system. We therefore believe that further refinement of the proposed ‘protection’ designation is required to ensure that the reformed planning system retains public confidence, this may be achieved through a range of more specific zones under the umbrella of ‘protect’.
Whilst we understand and support the intention to simplify the planning system, we are concerned to ensure that some of the flexibility of the current system remains. For example, we often have smaller developments come forward that were either not developed at plan production stage or were too small to delay the overall plan production, where we would nonetheless be keen to support the development. A good example might be an innovative business opportunity that might only work in a rural area, this might not fit with our ‘protect’ policy, but it would be regrettable if the system was too rigid to support otherwise sustainable growth, simply because it could not have been predicted earlier in the process.
While we broadly support the Government’s proposed reforms to the Local Plan system, the Council is concerned about the transitional arrangements, uncertainty and resourcing requirements to progress a new Local Plan through this new system. The Council is progressing with the early stages of our Local Plan preparation, having recently updated our Local Development Scheme (LDS), Statement of Community Involvement (SCI) and conducted a ‘Call for Sites’ consultation. We aim to go out for a high level ‘Directions of Travel’ consultation this autumn with a view to adopt a new Local Plan by end of 2023, ahead of the Government’s stated timetable for Local Plan adoption.
The Council wants to progress the Local Plan as quickly as possible without delay and we plan to proceed with the current timetable. However, the publication of the White Paper does create uncertainty. For example, in the procurement of technical evidence base studies to inform our Local Plan strategy, while we are factoring possible future changes to the planning system into the procurement briefs, there remains a risk of abortive work.
Therefore, the Council asks the Government to support us in getting an up-to-date plan adopted by moving quickly to decide what reforms to take forward and exactly how these will be delivered. This will in turn give us the certainty in understanding how we can best progress with our timetable. As matters stand, Wealden, like many other Councils is starting work on a new plan, without clarity over how that plan will be examined at the end of the process, risking abortive work and/or missed opportunities.
Absolutely central to our new plan will be responding to the climate emergency and we expect to develop a range of policies to ensure that this challenge will be met, from first principles about the location of growth, sustainable travel modes, digital connectivity all the way through to the fabric of all new development and the adaptions to our existing stock. The Council are supportive of the rollout of enhanced building regulations and later the Future Homes Standard to help us achieve this. In the meantime uncertainty exists as to whether building fabric issues are to be dealt with under the planning or building control regimes.
We would also support the provision of updated national planning guidance addressing plan-making that sets out how local planning authorities can best manage the changes to the planning system, taking into account the stage at which each local authority finds itself in the process. We would welcome the introduction of clear transitional arrangements to support local planning authorities that are progressing Local Plans under the current system, to avoid delay to the adoption of well advanced Local Plans and to help others manage the migration of emerging Local Plans from the old to the new system.
The Council welcomes the recognition within the White Paper that implementation of the reforms to the planning system will require necessary resourcing. We support the development of a comprehensive resource and skills strategy for the planning sector (as set out in Proposal 23). Planning departments have seen considerable decline in their budgets over the past decade and we see additional resourcing as an essential requirement to deliver on the Government’s ambitious aims as set out in the White Paper. The benefits set out in the White Paper will only be achieved if local planning authorities are given sufficient resources to make them a reality.
Proposal 2, Question 6. Do you agree with our proposals for streamlining the development management content of Local Plans, and setting out general development management policies nationally?
We agree that reducing the repetition of planning policies between the NPPF and Local Plans will lead to shorter plans that are easier to read and to understand. There are a wide range of planning policies (e.g. for heritage, flooding or town centres amongst other matters) that apply across the country. We agree there is no need to repeat these within Local Plans. General development management policies could be set out in the NPPF and this would have positive benefits for legibility and accessibility of the planning system as a whole. This will require giving general development management policies in an updated NPPF the same status as local planning policies in an adopted development plan for decision-taking.
However, we are concerned that the proposals to restrict development management policies within a Local Plan to “clear and necessary site or area-specific requirements including height, scale and/or density limits for land in ‘growth’ and ‘renewal’ areas” may be overly restrictive if it relates only to sites or particular identified areas in a Local Plan.
The Council considers that there is a role for Local Plans to set locally specific policies to respond to particular issues that an area is facing, provided that this can be justified on a robust evidence base through the examination process. This means having the freedom to take a different approach to the general NPPF policy because the ‘one size fits all’ national approach may not work in specific locations or circumstances, perhaps, inter alia, housing space standards, housing density or environmental protection. In addition, there may be a role for local planning authorities to set a limited number of locally specific policies for issues that are not covered at a national level because the issue may only impact a small number of local authorities. At this stage the term ‘development management policies’ is not defined and so it is hard to comment on the detail, but we would be interested to work with government to define these issues to allow for a locally specific take where this is appropriate.
It is suggested that Local Plans should continue to have a role in setting appropriate locally specific planning policies responding to particular issues provided they are justified through the examination process and do not needlessly repeat established national planning policy.
Proposal 3, Question 7(a). Do you agree with our proposals to replace existing legal and policy tests for Local Plans with a consolidated test of “sustainable development”, which would include consideration of environmental impact?
We support the Government’s ambition to make the Local Plan process simpler and quicker at the examination stage. A key aspect of achieving these goals is having a process that provides greater certainty to local planning authorities about what their Local Plans must achieve to be successful at examination.
Having clear guidance about what is required of a Local Plan will reduce inefficiency and delay in the process. Our concern is that the proposed test of achieving ‘sustainable development’ is too vague when set against the existing definition contained in the NPPF and that further detail will be needed to help local planning authorities strike the right balance in meeting the social, economic and environmental objectives of sustainable development through their Local Plans.
However, the Council supports the introduction of a simplified process for assessing the environmental impact of plans to meet our legal duties. The current system is highly prescriptive in approach, resource intensive and often produces lengthy reports particularly in the form of the Sustainability Appraisal (SA). We support the Government’s proposals to simplify this process provided there is no reduction to the protection afforded to the environment, and on the basis that the Government move to quickly define this goal. Put simply it is essential to define early how success for a local plan will be measured to ensure that resources can be deployed early to meet this goal.
Proposal 3, Question 7(b). How could strategic, cross-boundary issues be best planned for in the absence of a formal Duty to Cooperate?
We agree that addressing strategic cross boundary issues is a vital aspect of the current system that is in need of reform. Within the current system, the local authority’s approach to the duty to cooperate is only tested at the very end of the Local Plan process and only after a local authority has invested significant time and resource in to producing a strategy for their area.
If a local authority is deemed not to have met the duty to cooperate upon submission of the Local Plan to the Secretary of State, there is no way to remedy this through the current planning system other than to withdraw the submitted plan at the final hurdle and begin the process all over again. This is a highly costly, inefficient and unsatisfactory outcome, especially in light of the fact that the production of a new Local Plan takes significant time to develop (under the old or proposed system).
Whatever replaces the duty to cooperate must ensure that the system is designed in such a way as to prevent further delay and abortive work. It must be clear to local authorities from the outset how cross boundary issues should be planned for and there must also be an opportunity within the system to identify and correct any issues earlier in the plan making process, without the need to start over. It may be that this opportunity is provided through a ‘frequent milestone’ examination process throughout the process of producing our local plan, whereby an Inspector is assigned to a local Council from the outset, providing ongoing feedback on these key strategic issues at agreed stages in the process.
Proposal 4, Question 8(a). Do you agree that a standard method for establishing housing requirements (that takes into account constraints) should be introduced?
Any approach to setting a housing requirement figure for Wealden must strike the right balance between protecting environmental areas and delivering important social and economic objectives. Wealden is a highly constrained district and these constraints have an impact on the amount and distribution of future development in the district. The High Weald AONB takes up 53% of the district (predominantly in the north) and the Ashdown Forest and Pevensey Levels are both European protected sites, where development is rightly restricted to protect important habitats and rare species. There are numerous other important sites of nature conservation that constrain future development. On the other hand, much like the rest of the Southeast England, we are an area with high housing need, with worsening housing affordability and there are real social and economic consequences if these issues are not addressed.
The weight we attach to these factors is perhaps one of the most important decisions for the Local Plan and attracts the highest level of public interest. If the Government proposes to amend the current system and translate a nominal housing need figure into a binding Local Plan housing requirement then there must be a forum to allow our communities a chance to input into how those decisions are taken and what weight is given to different factors. The distribution of housing development in the future is an issue of national importance and there is concern that the current proposals in increasing housing numbers predominantly in the South do not address wider strategic goals such as investment in the North of England as set out in the Government’s ‘Levelling Up’ agenda.
Proposal 4, Question 8(b). Do you agree that affordability and the extent of existing urban areas are appropriate indicators of the quantity of development to be accommodated?
We agree that incorporating an adjustment for affordability is helpful in identifying where the demand for new housing is greatest and where new homes should be provided, if it is possible to do so. However we do have concerns about the extent of any adjustment and the impact this may have on our existing communities. We also have concerns that any adjustment beyond our demographic requirement will simply encourage more residents to locate to this area, rather than meeting our own needs. However, the increasing emphasis on affordability within the ‘standard method’ calculation disproportionally impacts Southeast England, where housing requirements have already increased dramatically since 2018 when the ‘standard method’ was first introduced. A focus on affordability fails to consider wider strategic goals such as the intention to channel investment and growth in the North of England as set out in the ‘Levelling Up’ agenda.
Proposal 5, Question 9(a). Do you agree that there should be automatic outline permission for areas for substantial development (Growth areas) with faster routes for detailed consent?
We agree that once the principle of certain types of development has been established at the Local Plan stage, another separate planning application process to revisit this issue should not be required. The frontloading of site assessment work does raise certain issues that must be addressed for the new planning system to function well. The additional site assessment work that must be undertaken at the plan-making stage places additional burdens for local planning authorities at this early stage and that will need to be properly resourced.
The ‘growth’ areas will likely be the largest and most complex sites within a local authority area. Within the current planning system, not all of the necessary site information is available at this early stage in the process to assess fully the site constraints, access arrangements or other challenges. There will need to be greater engagement from developers and more assessment work done at an earlier stage to demonstrate that the substantial development proposed in ‘growth’ areas can come forward. The Council’s concern is the proposed timetable of 30 months to designate ‘growth’ areas and therefore grant outline planning permission for our largest housing sites is unrealistic and that there should be some flexibility for this timetable as the new system beds in.
Proposal 5, Question 9(b). Do you agree with our proposals above for the consent arrangements for Renewal and Protected areas?
The proposed expansion of permitted development rights for certain building types in ‘renewal’ areas under the ‘Fast Track for Beauty’ requires further detailed proposals before the impact of the proposal can be fully assessed. The Council welcomes the Government’s proposal to develop a pilot programme to test the concept before this process can be adopted nationally.
Proposal 6, Question 10. Do you agree with our proposals to make decision-making faster and more certain?
We support the Government’s drive towards quicker decision making and believe that greater digitisation could have significant benefits in making the planning system more efficient and user friendly. There is great scope to improve the submission and validation of planning applications through digital innovation. Digital systems could be put in place to ensure applicants apply for the correct permission, provide all the right information up front and pay the correct fee. Application forms that only ask for relevant information and the provision of data in machine readable formats could drive efficiencies within the planning system, as well as improving the user experience for applicants and speed up decision-making.
The other significant factor in speeding up decisions is the proper resourcing of planning departments across the country and we support the White Paper’s recognition that this is an important element in achieving the Government’s stated aims through these reforms.
However, the proposed sanctions against timely decision making set out in the White Paper would be counterproductive to this aim in our view. The repayment of planning fees to applicants where decisions take longer than 8 weeks or 13 weeks would only help to exacerbate existing budgetary/resourcing issues and would run counter to the need to properly resource the planning system to ensure these reforms are successful.
The proposal for some types of applications to gain automatic consent where a timeframe is not met also carries significant risks. The proposal may result in an increase in unnecessary refusals by the local planning authority. For example, a refusal within timescales would likely be preferable to risking automatic approval of poor quality development that might happen where an officer seeks to overcome issues at the determination stage through amendments. Negotiation and re-design through the planning application process is often necessary, but does create delays as local planning authorities must currently re-consult with statutory consultees/general public. However, this perhaps creates better outcomes in the long term, if the issues are overcome and an approval is achieved that results in a better quality development.
Proposal 7, Question 11. Do you agree with our proposals for accessible, web-based Local Plans?
The Council supports efforts to make Local Plans more accessible and web based. Interactive web-based maps, giving a spatial expression to the policies within a Local Plan, will help people understand the planning rules in their area more easily. The use of these tools will increase the accessibility and transparency of the current planning system, especially for those who do not have an existing knowledge base or expertise in this area.
However, there will always be a minority of people for whom online approaches will not be the answer and this is the case in Wealden. The Council would therefore support the retention of hard copy documents within the new planning system to ensure a fully inclusive planning system.
Proposal 8, Question 12. Do you agree with our proposals for a 30 month statutory timescale for the production of Local Plans?
The Council supports the Government’s aim to simplify and speed up the Local Plan process but does have concerns that the proposed 30 month statutory timescale for the production of Local Plan is overly ambitious, especially in light of the uncertainty and additional burdens the new system places on plan making in the short term.
The proposed streamlined process for plan preparation sets aside only 12 months for local authorities to gather the necessary evidence base for the area and to draft Local Plan (including new housing allocations, which as previously suggested, will require significant site assessment work). This bears little resemblance to the time it takes to produce a Local Plan in the current planning system. The proposed timescale for Examination in Public is 9 months, which is not much shorter than the time given to Council to produce the Local Plan. We do not object to a statutory timescale being set for production of a Local Plan but the time period should be realistic and achievable and we are concerned that the 12 month timeframe to produce a Local Plan will result in poorly evidenced/developed Local Plans being submitted to the Secretary of State, without the adequate resources being in place. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to shorten the length of time required for the examination, including by ‘partnering‘ an Inspector to each LPA early so that they are aware of the direction of travel for the plan, can step in as required and importantly allowing more time to engage with the public to produce a well evidenced and robust plan.
Proposal 9, Question 13(a). Do you agree that Neighbourhood Plans should be retained in the reformed planning system?
In Wealden we have 13 designated neighbourhood areas. There is one ‘made’ Neighbourhood Plan, two further plans awaiting referendum (having successfully passed examination) and a number of groups actively working to produce a first draft. Our Town and Parish Councils and communities have important knowledge about the planning issues in their areas and neighbourhood planning can be a powerful tool to harness and engage communities in the planning process.
The neighbourhood plan groups in Wealden have invested significant time and resources in engaging with their communities and in both drafting and creating Neighbourhood Plans.
If the Government were to reform significantly the scope of neighbourhood plans going forward, to focus on issues such as design, we would strongly support transitional arrangements to give existing ‘made’ Neighbourhood Plans weight in the new planning system and to give neighbourhood planning groups that are well advanced in their plan-making process the opportunity to proceed to examination and referendum on their draft Neighbourhood Plans that have required monetary/time resources to get to that stage.
The current potential scope of neighbourhood plans make this process very time consuming for local communities, LPAs and those developers that do seek to engage. Whilst recognising the benefit neighbourhood plans can add to the planning system, we are concerned about the capacity in the system to support this additional layer of planning control. There is a clear tension between the desire for local decision making and influence, set aside an increasingly complex structure of Local Plans and Neighbourhood plans, with many neighbourhood plan, extending to longer documents than the NPPF. For these reasons, if government are minded to retain neighbourhood development plans, we would support clear guidance to limit their scope, particularly towards local design issues where genuine value can be added to local decision making.
Proposal 9, Question 13(b). How can the neighbourhood planning process be developed to meet our objectives, such as in the use of digital tools and reflecting community preferences about design?
Linked to our concerns under Question 13(a), the use of digital tools in the process of developing Neighbourhood Plans whilst potentially helpful, risks further complicating the process for many local communities and add further to the cost of production. If Government is minded to retain neighbourhood plans, it will be important that provide additional funding and support to all involved in the process to innovate in this space to engage a larger and wider group of people in giving their views on what represents good design in their area, taking advantage of geo-location data to target individuals in designated Neighbourhood Plan areas. Simple visual polling using photos of differing development approaches or designs, coupled with a social media marketing, could help to inform the contents of design codes in Neighbourhood Plans, prior to a referendum taking place.
Proposal 10, Question 14. Do you agree there should be a stronger emphasis on the build out of developments? And if so, what further measures would you support?
The Council supports the Government’s greater emphasis on build out rates and the policy support for a range of housing products being delivered by different builders on large sites to speed up build out rates as recommended by the Letwin Review. Speeding up housing delivery would help reinforce the plan led system and reduce the risk of speculative development coming forward as a result of an adverse HDT results and application of the presumption in favour of sustainable development.
The Council recognises that the decision to build is in the hands of landowners and developers and that local authorities have limited powers to influence this currently. We would strongly support the Government in considering additional incentives to build out housing developments more quickly including financial incentives or penalties, where these prove to be effective.
Whilst we have severe reservations regarding the potential for land banking and developers having too great a control over when development is taken forward, we are unsure about options that seek to remove planning permission for sites that are not built, as this may risk those sites we have previously selected for growth (our favoured sites) being replaced by those in less sustainable locations in order to meet the housing delivery test.
Instead, the Council favour financial penalties for slow progress, for example through CIL/IL, perhaps payable within 12 months of consent regardless of development progress on site. In addition, we would seek the development of a much simpler step-in-right for Local Councils and Homes England to take control of development sites and ensure that they are developed out.
Question 15. What do you think about the design of new development that has happened recently in your area? [Not sure or indifferent / Beautiful and/or well-designed / Ugly and/or poorly-designed / There hasn’t been any / Other – please specify
The Council works hard to ensure that all new development is of a high quality and reflective of our local character. Whilst not true in every instance, there is a general parallel between the size of the development and the quality of the design, with smaller sites often going much further to respond to local character and provide bespoke design solutions.
Question 16. Sustainability is at the heart of our proposals. What is your priority for sustainability in your area? [Less reliance on cars / More green and open spaces / Energy efficiency of new buildings / More trees / Other – please specify]
Sustainability and specifically a reduction in carbon emissions is a key priority for the Council following the declaration of a Climate Emergency on 24 July 2019 and the Council’s commitment to work towards achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 for both the Council’s own operations and the wider Wealden area. Sustainability is also central to our vision for the future of Wealden as set out in our Corporate Plan 2019-2023. Indeed, we have strongly supported Governments efforts to enhance building regulations through the Future Homes Standard. New homes built in our area are already more sustainable than existing housing stock, but there is more we can do in this area.
In delivering our vision for the District, our priorities for sustainability include promoting cleaner technologies, facilitating cleaner, smarter, more affordable energy for our communities. Supporting projects that encourage the use of low carbon or renewable energy and initiatives to extend the electric vehicle charging network and the take up of ultra-low emission vehicles. We also support sustainable transport improvements in the District such as the reinstatement of the Lewes-Uckfield rail link and full electrification of the line. We seek to reduce waste, the use of plastics and promote recycling. In protecting the environment, we seek to mitigate the effects of new development on rare biodiversity in the District and maintain and manage Suitable Alternative Natural Green Spaces to allow development to take place.
Proposal 11, Question 17. Do you agree with our proposals for improving the production and use of design guides and codes?
The Council agrees with the Government’s aim to drive up design quality. Wealden already has a design guide that has been adopted by the Council as a Supplementary Planning Document (SPD). This document is a material consideration in planning decisions in the district. The Council has therefore partly addressed this issue already, albeit that this document does require updating to comply with new national planning policy on the design of new developments. The Council therefore ask that the Government consider its policy and guidance amendments to set a high bar for planning decisions so that all new development that comes forward is of a high quality design, including how development should respond to climate change, as well as ensuring that the quantity of new homes and other development required in the district is still delivered.
Proposal 12, Question 18. Do you agree that we should establish a new body to support design coding and building better places, and that each authority should have a chief officer for design and place-making?
The Council questions how the establishment of a new body to support local authorities to develop design guides and codes meets the aspiration to support local decision making. The Council consider that the funding for this would be better given to local authorities to establish local solutions. Similarly, whilst we recognise the importance of design, the Council consider that it is for local authorities to define our staffing structures, dependant on local circumstances.
Proposal 14, Question 20. Do you agree with our proposals for implementing a fast-track for beauty?
The Council supports an update to the NPPF to allow high quality developments that accord with design guides to be approved swiftly. The planning system should be supporting high quality design. We also support the requirement for a master plan and site specific code as proposed for ‘growth’ areas. The Council would welcome additional funding to develop our urban design / master planning capacity to allow us to produce these in-house, otherwise it will fall to the site promoter to produce these in the reformed planning system.
The final strand of the fast track for beauty process, which includes expanded permitted development rights in renewal areas to support gentle intensification of our towns requires further detail before an assessment can be made as to whether the proposed changes will deliver well designed buildings and places. We therefore support the introduction of a pilot programme to take this forward.
Proposal 19, Question 22(a). Should the Government replace the Community Infrastructure Levy and Section 106 planning obligations with a new consolidated Infrastructure Levy, which is charged as a fixed proportion of development value above a set threshold?
The Council does not object to reforms to the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) and Section 106 system provided that the level of funding for infrastructure and affordable housing is at least the same level as under the existing system. It is noted that if the Infrastructure Levy was to be set nationally, then this process would need to take account of different levels of viability across the country to ensure that the Infrastructure Levy captures the same amount of value as addressed under the current system. The Council also questions how some matters currently secured through the use of s106 agreements will be resolved.
Overall, whatever the system employed, we consider that the emphasis should be to capture a larger proportion of land value uplift in order that LPAs and our partners can invest in high quality infrastructure to serve our growing populations. In addition, the Council strongly believes that the new solution to developer contributions should not be open to debate and reduction due to viability evaluations. The relevant rate should be fixed to deliver the necessary infrastructure and affordable housing and this should be reflected in the true value of land. Continuing to allow debate on this point, only seeks to raise land values and slow delivery, by encouraging applicants and landowners to use the planning system to leverage an increase profit.
Proposal 19, Question 22(c). Should the Infrastructure Levy aim to capture the same amount of value overall, or more value, to support greater investment in infrastructure, affordable housing and local communities?
Overall, whatever the system employed, we consider that the emphasis should be to capture a larger proportion of land value uplift in order that LPAs and our partners can invest in high quality infrastructure to serve our growing populations
Proposal 21, Question 24(a). Do you agree that we should aim to secure at least the same amount of affordable housing under the Infrastructure Levy, and as much on-site affordable provision, as at present?
The Council supports the principle that these reforms should at least deliver the same about of affordable housing and as much on-site provision as the current system and should aim to deliver more if possible, subject to the viability of new housing development. The Council considers that it remains important that any affordable housing is provided on site, other than in exceptional circumstances, in order to provide for truly mixed and balanced communities.
Proposal 22, Question 25(a). If yes, should an affordable housing ‘ring-fence’ be developed?
The Council considers that whatever system we settle on should seek to reduce the tension between affordable housing and infrastructure delivery, by ensuring that there is sufficient funding to deliver both at suitable levels. If/when this is not the case, the Council considers that the balance between affordable housing provision and infrastructure delivery should be a decision for LPAs in consultation with our communities.
I trust that the above comments are helpful at this stage. If you have any further queries, then please do not hesitate to contact us.
Head of Policy and Economic Development