The new planning law that is to come into effect this month (September 2020) has brought with it some fierce criticism from some quarters, support in others, but definitely controversy all round. It will be interesting to see what impact the planning law changes have in terms of architects, designers and planners moving forward, and a desire from many people to prevent the real worry that the implemented law could lead to a ‘slum housing’ problem in the future. There have always been planning regulations and different bureaucratic hoops to jump through for architects over the centuries. They will adapt quickly and inventively when this new change comes into effect this month.
The new Planning White Paper that the government has put forward is 84-pages long and is called ‘Planning for the Future’. It aims to implement a significant overhaul of the current system of planning in England, replacing it with a centralised decision-making process, brand-new local design codes and zonal planning. The changes will make a big change to the post-war planning rulebook in the country, and it has been met with pretty mixed reviews from people within opposition, as well as industry heads, with many worrying that it could clear the way for a slum housing pandemic in the near future. It is also worth pointing out that there is a long way to go before these changes come into law, and will have to pass a few legislative hurdles along the way first.
The biggest proposed change is to the housing targets, with the government deciding how many new homes are built in each area. Currently, local councils and regional authorities have put together lists of homes they need built, based on local plans and the land constraints of the area and areas of outstanding natural beauty that cannot be built on. The changes would mean that the overall nationwide figure would be used as a starting point and a top-down approach to where and how many new houses are built and there will likely be sanctions if these targets are not met on a local level.
Another big change to legislation will be the way that land is categorised during the planning process – moving towards a system of zonal planning. Local councils would have to demonstrate a dividing of all sites within their area to the following categories; protected, renewal, and growth. This will then assist the council in deciding where houses will be built after being instructed the precise numbers from government. Growth areas would mean that some developers gain automatic planning permission, which is an area where some complaints have arisen about the standard of housing being built could be at risk of being sub-standard.
Other changes include a streamlining of local plans, to become the main way in which community engagement is enhanced at an early stage in proceedings, rather than a few years down the line, which is currently the case. The new local plans will also include a provision where local councils must prescribe what they want from housing in different areas, including transport links, energy credentials and the aesthetics of developments, in a big change to the way in which design codes function.
The best architecture firms will always be ahead of the game when it comes to new and upcoming legislation relating to all things planning and design. The changes will represent a challenge, but that is something the most innovative designers and architects know all about, and they are known for rising to the challenge and overcoming obstacles by creating designs and plans that are efficient, aesthetically pleasing and functional, within whatever boundaries and parameters are in place to offer constraints. It remains to be seen whether the legal challenges against the new planning law changes will come to anything. Either way, architects will be ready for the challenges ahead.