Phil Villars, Head of Planning Consultancy at WSP, comments on today’s publication of the ‘Planning for the Future’ White Paper and associated consultations.

Phil Villars, Head of Planning Consultancy, WSP

“Industry had described it as Planning Reform Day and the anticipation and sense of significance were certainly justified. Today’s publication of the delayed Planning White Paper, following a series of well-reported announcements, is momentous. This is partly because reforms to planning have consequences for everyone, from developers, to local authorities, housebuilders to communities and individuals, and partly because of the sheer volume of significant proposed reforms.

“While some of the bolder ones remain to be consulted on, a series of announcements give a clear sense of direction from Government, and align well with the Prime Minister’s recent ‘Build Build Build’ speech.

“We are encouraged that the Government is saying it will prioritise the delivery of new homes, including affordable homes, and that the quality of these in terms of build and design is important. It effectively proposes a new plan-led system which will be more inclusive and once in place will allow for quicker decision-making and delivery of homes as the principle of development will be established. We also welcome the recognition that local authority resources need to be in place with planners who have the right skill sets as well as the digital technology to ensure everyone can engage with the new system to help deliver the homes of the future.

“We believe today’s proposals will increase developers’ and investors’ confidence that the Government is serious about creating a planning system that can work for everyone, creating the right environment for them to plan ahead with confidence to deliver new places and promote sustainable economic growth. The changes proposed are potentially quite significant when it comes to establishing housing targets for each local authority area and in terms of how these and affordable housing will be delivered. It does have the potential to help create more certainty.     

“Clearly, we have heard much before from consecutive Governments about plans to simplify the planning system and delivering more homes, including affordable housing. Will this be any different? It certainly strikes many of the right notes and through the consultation period and journey through Parliament it will be interesting to see how this evolves. Indeed, it is worth bearing in mind that before these policy proposals are brought in to statute, Government will need to pass a large number of primary legislation and statutory instruments, creating opportunities to refine some of these proposals around a consensus. The devil will of course be in the detail and require significant and sustained government investment if the reforms are to be delivered.

“Finally, we welcome the requirement for new homes to be net-zero ready by 2025 as this is a measure which WSP has advocated for previously. We are moving to a world where all cars are electric, energy storage and local renewable energy is ubiquitous. These developments create great opportunities for smart energy management to reduce CO2 emissions and bills, but needs a thought-out approach to the underlying infrastructure supporting that.

“Today’s measures are undeniably significant and offer clear potential for improvement on a number of fronts, including more meaningful community engagement, better design standards, lower cost and risk in the planning system, and greater clarity for the builder, investment and development SME community.

“One omission worth noting is relating to the role of Mayors and combined authorities, for whom the pressure to build quality homes is high, but who seem to not be given the increased remit required to deliver.

“As a business, WSP will certainly be looking very closely at the proposals, engaging with our clients across all sectors and contributing to the discussion on what is a key issue if we are to create the right places for the future.” 

Phil Villars

Phil Villars, Head of Planning Consultancy at WSP