Radical and necessary reforms to our planning system will get Britain building

During lockdown many readers will have spent more time at home than ever before; a home can be a haven, that provides financial security, roots in a community and a place that a family can call their own

But our country’s outdated and cumbersome planning system has contributed to a generational divide between those who own property and those who don’t. Half as many 16-34 year olds own their own homes, compared to those aged 35-64.

While house prices have soared since the Millennium, with England seeing an increase at one of the fastest rates in Europe, our complex and slow planning system has been a barrier to building homes which are affordable, where families want to raise children and build their lives.

It’s resulted in delays to vital infrastructure projects that come with new housing. Communities are missing out on new hospitals, new schools and improved roads and restrictions have left derelict buildings as eyesores and empty shops on our high streets, instead of helping them to adapt and evolve.

Local building plans were supposed to help councils and their residents deliver more homes in their area, yet they take on average seven years to agree in the form of lengthy and absurdly complex documents and accompanying policies understandable only to the lawyers who feast upon every word.

Under the current system, it takes an average of five years for a standard housing development to go through the planning system – before a spade is even in the ground.

Seven years to make a plan, five years to get permission to build the houses and slow delivery of vital infrastructure.

This is why the Prime Minister has been clear that we need an ambitious response that matches the scale of the challenge in front of us. A once in a generation reform that lays the foundations for a better future.

So this week I am bringing forward radical and necessary reforms to our planning system to get Britain building and drive our economic recovery.

We are introducing a simpler, faster, people-focused system to deliver the homes and places we need.

Under the new process, through democratic local agreement, land will be designated in one of three categories: for growth, for renewal or for protection.

Land designated for growth will empower development – new homes, hospitals, schools, shops and offices will be allowed automatically. People can get going.

Renewal areas will enable much quicker development with a ‘permission in principle’ approach to balance speed while ensuring appropriate checks are carried out.

And protected land will be just that – our Green Belt, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and rich heritage – will be protected as the places, views and landscapes we cherish most and passed on to the next generation as set out in our manifesto.

Our reforms seek a more diverse and competitive housing industry, in which smaller builders can thrive alongside the big players and where planning permissions are turned into homes faster than they are today.

Creating a new planning system isn’t a task we undertake lightly, but it is both an overdue and a timely reform. Millions of jobs depend on the construction sector and in every economic recovery, it has played a crucial role. These reforms will create thousands of new jobs, from bricklayers to architects.

We are cutting red tape, but not standards. We will be driven by outcomes, not process.

It is easy to see why so many people are wary of development, when streets of identikit, “anywheresville” housing has become the norm. This Government doesn’t want to just build houses. We want a society that has re-established powerful links between identity and place, between our unmatchable architectural heritage and the future, between community and purpose. Our reformed system places a higher regard on quality and design than ever before, and draws inspiration from the idea of design codes and pattern books that built Bath, Belgravia and Bournville.

John Ruskin said that we must build and when we do let us think that we build forever. That will be guiding principle as we set out the future of the planning system.

New developments will be beautiful places, not just collections of buildings. Good design is the best antidote to local objections to building.

We will build environmentally friendly homes that will not need to be expensively retrofitted in the future, homes with green spaces and new parks at close hand, where tree lined streets are provided for in law, where neighbours are not strangers.

We are moving away from notices on lampposts to an interactive, and accessible map-based online system – placing planning at the fingertips of people. The planning process will be brought into the 21st century. Communities will be reconnected to a planning process that is supposed to serve them, with residents more engaged over what happens in their areas.

While the current system excludes residents who don’t have the time to contribute to the lengthy and archaic planning process, local democracy and accountability will now be enhanced by technology and transparency.

Above all, these reforms will help us build the homes our country desperately needs by unlocking land and new opportunities. In so doing we will provide secure housing for the vulnerable, bridge the generational divide and recreate an ownership society, one in which millions more people can open their front door and say with pride, “welcome to my home”.

Robert Jenrick is the Housing Secretary