Chartered Institute of Building Magazine of the Chartered Institute of Building


SMEs ‘key players’ in new planning regime

6 August 2020 | By Neil Gerrard

The government hopes that “landmark” reforms to the planning system will give smaller housebuilders a better foothold to compete with their bigger rivals.

Setting out the changes in a white paper entitled “Planning for the future”, the government branded the current system “outdated” and said it wanted to streamline it, cutting red tape and harnessing technology to deliver homes more quickly.

The government said it wanted SME builders to be “key players” in the new system, highlighting evidence that the current system is unfavourable to smaller firms, with the proportion of new homebuilding they lead on dropping from 40% 30 years ago to just 12% today.

The government wants to see building speeded up, setting a target for local housing plans to be  developed and agreed within 30 months – down from the current seven years.

And the new system will also see the introduction of three different categories for land:

  • Land suitable for growth will be approved for development at the same time that plans are prepared, which the government said would allow new homes, schools, shops and business space to be built quickly and efficiently, as long as local design standards are met.
  • Renewal areas will enable quicker development “where it is well-designed in a way which reflects community preferences”.
  • Development on Green Belt land will continue to be restricted, with policy remaining a decision for local authorities as they prepare their plans.

Among other proposed reforms are:

  • For plans to be fully digitised and web-based following agreed web standards, rather than document-based. The government said this would allow for any updates to be published instantaneously and make it easier to share across all parties and the wider public.
  • Tree-lined streets will be “the norm”.
  • A new rules-based planning system. Currently around a third of planning cases that go to appeal are overturned at appeal.
  • Section 106 agreements and the Community Infrastructure Levy will be replaced with a new Infrastructure Levy that will be a fixed proportion of the value of the development, above a set threshold.
  • A fast-track system for beautiful buildings and establishing local design guidance for developers to build and preserve beautiful communities.
  • All new homes to be ‘zero carbon ready’, the ability to become fully zero-carbon once the electricity grid decarbonises.

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick said: “Our complex planning system has been a barrier to building the homes people need; it takes seven years to agree local housing plans and five years just to get a spade in the ground.

“These once-in-a-generation reforms will lay the foundations for a brighter future, providing more homes for young people and creating better quality neighbourhoods and homes across the country. We will cut red tape, but not standards, placing a higher regard on quality, design and the environment than ever before. Planning decisions will be simple and transparent, with local democracy at the heart of the process.

“As we face the economic effects of the pandemic, now is the time for decisive action and a clear plan for jobs and growth. Our reforms will create thousands of jobs, lessen the dominance of big builders in the system, providing a major boost for small building companies across the country.”

James Thomson, CEO of Gleeson Homes, said: “We strongly support the reform of our historic planning system, to bring it up to speed and ensure it is fit for purpose for the modern-day. In particular, we welcome initiatives to make it more transparent, speed up planning where appropriate and has a presumption towards development rather than against. The renewed commitment to building 300,000 new homes a year is an important goal and will be aided by these new initiatives.

“At Gleeson, our focus is building low-cost quality homes in areas of regeneration and on brownfield land. The permission in principle initiative will help us to fast-track hundreds of new affordable homes for first-time buyers and essential workers on lower incomes who are eager to get a foot on the property ladder. Not only will these reforms go some way to supporting local SME housebuilders and their supply chains, but they will also help to ‘level-up’ the country through increased infrastructure investment, bringing jobs and homes to the north.

“It’s also promising to see the government renew its commitment to building well designed places for people to live and work, rather than just schemes that focus solely on density often to the detriment of place.”


These comments raise many hopes but the proof of the pudding etc. I recall similar hopes when Mr Cameron announced “we will be the greenest government ever” only to see the “zero carbon homes ” policy dropped like a hot potato, presumably in the wake of lobbying.

This article does raise some interesting points and I wonder who will determine what beautiful will look like and how that might impact performance.

In our climate challenged world does performance not outrank beauty. We have suffered “performance gap” between as designed and as built forever so I wonder who will win this contest.

But given that we only need to be getting “zero carbon ready” till the grid “decarbonises” I suspect we will have plenty of time to make a few s73 variations to the plans.

Still we all love a challenge, don’t we?

David Daniels, 11 August 2020