The Government’s planning White Paper

David Norman of Davon considers why the government’s planning White Paper is an opportunity we can’t miss to revolutionise the planning system

As the end of the consultation period for the government’s Planning for the Future White Paper looms, David Norman of Davon considers why this is an opportunity we can’t miss to revolutionise the planning process.

Some years ago, a client of ours bought a site formerly owned by the local authority and sat down with the council planner showing him a sketch he’d drawn out. The initial plans were rejected and for the next few years the local residential developer continued to jump through the planning hoops, including an appeal. Planning consent was eventually achieved ten years later; the plans were practically a carbon copy of the original plan presented almost a decade previously. This might be an extreme example of planning delays but sadly this type of experience isn’t rare. Residential developers, both large and small have come to expect the period from planning submission to construction to routinely run into years.

The much heralded Planning for the Future White Paper, launched in August, has the potential to simplify, streamline and speed up the current planning process. If much of what is proposed manages to emerge unscathed, this could be nothing short of revolutionary. This would lead to more development and construction, as well as support government s hope to deliver 300,000 homes annually. But it’s a big ‘if’. This is why the planning White Paper is causing all those in the sector to hold their breath in anticipation of the end of the consultation period on 29 October.

It’s no surprise that the business and house building sectors are passionately supportive of the white paper while those in the planning and professional arenas are more reticent, as change is never painless. But consider this – small builders were responsible for 40% of new build homes 30 years ago, now the figure stands at 12%. In addition, a recent survey by the National House Building Council of over 500 small firms, showed that more than two thirds stated the unpredictability of the planning system, plus the length of time it took to gain planning permission seriously hindered their plans to develop. Couple this with data showing that British house builders built fewer new buildings proportionally than any other European country (From 2017 HBF report), the need for urgent action is heightened.

There is no doubt that the sector needs something more tangible than rousing rhetoric to build hundreds of thousands of homes into existence. The intent of the White Paper has the potential to positively impact societal change; giving people homes they can buy or rent and increased choice throughout the country, which in turn will inevitably drive down or maintain prices at a competitive level. The White Paper supports a synergy between local plans being prepared whilst land earmarked for growth will be approved for development. It is anticipated that the result will be buildings required to serve entire communities, not just residential developments, should be able to be built quickly and efficiently, subject to local design standards being met.

If we want a future where demand for housing is met, inward investment into our communities is encouraged and the trend for relocation outside of the traditional powerhouses of England to be supported and made possible, this is our opportunity. The aspiration of successive governments over the past 30 years, both on the right and the left, to build hundreds and thousands of urgently needed homes may actually have a chance of becoming a reality.

Information about the author: David founded Davon Limited in 1996 and has over 25 years experience financing residential property schemes.