As Liz Truss takes the reins at Number 10, we look at what this might mean for the planning sector…
It’s all change in government this month, as Liz Truss moves into Downing Street and Simon Clarke takes over as Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.
Prime Minister Truss claims that she wants to rip up the red tape when it comes to planning, putting the power back into the hands of local councils, making more of space in cities, and devising location-specific policies, rather than a one-size-fits-all blanket policy.
Clarke has already made his stance clear, stating that government should steer away from ‘top-down housing targets’, which ‘poison’ the relationship between local communities and government. Instead, he pledged ‘rational incentives’ to help in delivering new homes.
During her leadership campaign Truss said that she wanted to make changes to the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, replacing centralised targets with tax cuts and cutting down on the red tape in ‘opportunity zones’ to make it easier for developments in brownfield sites to happen more speedily.
“I want to abolish the top-down, Whitehall-inspired Stalinist housing targets”
She told the Telegraph: “I want to abolish the top-down, Whitehall-inspired Stalinist housing targets,” she said. “I think that’s the wrong way to generate economic growth.” She also said that she wanted to recognise the differences in different parts of the country, getting rid of the one-size-fits all approach to housing and devising policies that are location specific.
Truss has also stated that the wishes of local communities are key, saying it was “important that we have policies that command local consent, that local people can support, because they know that it’s going to help their children, their grandchildren, their friends, get on the housing ladder, and that’s how we need to develop that policy.’’ She recalled her early days as a councillor for Eltham South, telling the Express: “As a former councillor, I remember those painful hours sitting through planning committees. I’ll put power back in local councillors’ hands who know far better than Whitehall what their communities want.”
She is also an advocate of making more of the space in cities, while recognising that care needs to be taken in rural areas. She wants to allow “expansion of villages rather than these massive targets that land on the back of local councils”, and advocates infrastructure being built to support developments rather than “housing estates plunked in the middle of nowhere with no discernible facilities or infrastructure to support them”.
However, her housing and levelling up ambitions are likely to be undermined by a lack of resources to the planning system, says a report from the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI).
The report shows a drop in local authority spending on planning of 43% over the past decade, and pointed out that cuts in the planning sector have resulted in less than half of planning applications being decided within statutory time limits in 2021.
Victoria Hills, Chief Executive of the RTPI, said, “During her race to Prime Minister, Liz Truss pledged to double down on levelling up and spark a new industrial revolution. But she’ll need to make immediate progress with planning reform in her first weeks in office if she wants to achieve these goals.
“While we agree with Liz Truss that our planning system is imperfect, complex and faces significant challenges, planners cannot be expected to do more with less in perpetuity”
“I have written to the new Leader of the Conservative Party urging her to make planning reform a top priority and deliver for communities. While we agree with Liz Truss that our planning system is imperfect, complex and faces significant challenges, planners cannot be expected to do more with less in perpetuity. Particularly in a time of high inflation, we need a timely responsive planning service, but this can only be achieved if it is appropriately resourced.
“Planning is one of the most important functions that local authorities have to improve residents’ lives. Without better-quality planning services, communities will miss opportunities to level up, deliver vital housing, improve health outcomes and tackle climate change.”
During a TV debate with Rishi Sunak, Truss also explained her plans for investment zones “ripe for transformation’’ with simplified planning regimes – these zones would be designated as low-tax areas to drive growth, with reduced regulations and relaxed planning rules. She also envisions these zones allowing the development of new model villages like Bournville, near Birmingham.
And according to Energy Live she has spoken out against solar developments, saying: “Our fields should be filled with our fantastic produce – whether it’s the great livestock, the great arable farms.
“It shouldn’t be full of solar panels and I will change the rules. I will change the rules to make sure we are using our high value agricultural land for farming.”
She has also promised to build the Northern Powerhouse Rail link, which will connect Liverpool and Leeds, via Manchester and Bradford, to “unlock potential across the North’’.
There are fascinating times ahead for the planning sector and we will watch the developments with interest.
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