Government publishes planning white paper

07 August 2020

The government published a new planning white paper, Planning for the Future, on 6 August.

The paper sets out proposals for major reforms to the planning system, including a proposal to replace existing developer contributions to affordable housing with a new levy on all development, combining Section 106 and the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL).

A second consultation on important short-term changes to the current planning system was also published.

Key proposed reforms

The white paper is open for consultation until 29 October and puts forward the following proposals:

  • Section 106 developer contributions and CIL to be replaced with a new Infrastructure Levy. This would be a fixed proportion of the value of the development, above a set threshold, with revenues spent locally on infrastructure projects and new affordable housing.
  • The planning process to be overhauled and replaced with a ‘clearer, rules based system’.
  • A new zoning system that categorises land into growth, renewal or protected areas. In growth areas, outline approval would be automatically granted for types of development specified in local plans.
  • Every area to have a zone-based local plan in place, and local housing plans to be developed and agreed in the reduced timeframe of 30 months.
  • Local communities to be consulted from the outset of the planning process, with greater input into local plans and the planning system made more accessible through technology.
  • More building to be allowed on brownfield land, with greenbelt land protection to continue.
  • A focus on beauty and green space, with a ‘fast-track system for beautiful buildings’, new local design guidance, and all new streets to be tree lined.
  • All new homes to be carbon neutral by 2050.

The consultation on short-term changes includes:

  • A proposal that First Homes should make up a minimum of 25% of affordable housing secured through Section 106, with this requirement carried through to the new levy.
  • Increasing the threshold at which a development is exempt from Section 106 requirements from 10 homes to 40 or 50 homes for an initial period of 18 months.
  • A revised 'standard method' for assessing housing need, which would raise numbers in all regions, and particularly in London. 
  • Consulting on extending Permission in Principle to major developments. 

NHF reaction

We welcome the government’s overall ambition to improve the planning process, speed up housing delivery, and focus on good design and community engagement.

However, the proposed replacement of Section 106 – which currently delivers about half of all new affordable homes – has serious implications for the amount of affordable homes housing associations can build. Smaller and rural housing associations are particularly reliant on Section 106 contributions to deliver new affordable homes and would be disproportionately affected by the short-term changes to the current system too.

The white paper acknowledges the importance of maintaining affordable housing delivery, and commits to the new levy delivering ‘at least as much, if not more on-site affordable housing as at present’.

However, we need clarity on how this would in practice and how housing associations’ impressive record of affordable housing delivery will be safeguarded.

In particular, it will be vital that funding from the levy is ringfenced for affordable housing, that housing associations can access it easily, and that affordable housing delivery is not lost in areas where the levy will generate less income.

Next steps

Housing associations are ready to engage constructively with the government on these proposals to deliver a good outcome for affordable housing, and we welcome the ambition to speed up housing delivery. Ministers and officials have said they are keen to work closely and in dialogue with the sector.

We have also been clear to ministers on our concerns about the proposed changes to section 106, and the potential consequences if a new system does not protect the sector’s ability to deliver much-needed affordable housing.

We will continue to engage directly with the government, and will produce a full sector response to the white paper consultation and the short-term consultation.

Our priority now is working with our members over the coming weeks to understand the potential implications of these proposed reforms. This will include:

  • A detailed member briefing on the white paper and short-term consultation.
  • A member webinar to discuss the proposals in more depth on 25 August.
  • Member engagement meetings, in particular with smaller and rural providers and at our regular chief executive forums, to understand the impacts on different parts of the sector and country.

We are keen to hear our members’ initial views and questions on these proposals, so please get in touch.