Planning 2020: Raynsford Review of Planning in England
This Review was led by former Labour Housing Minister Nick Raynsford published in November 2018. Among the conclusions expected from the review was a simple question – is the current system fit for purpose?
It’s a good question to ask on a regular basis, especially as governments make changes to the system to suit their own political ambitions. Consequently, planning laws and processes change, become more clunky, and more confused for the consumer.
An example of this has been the introduction of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) in 2012, which aimed to cut back on the hundreds of pages of planning laws and guidance, to simplify and bring more clarity and certainty to the planning and development sectors.
In reality, it threw up a whole new raft of issues to haggle over, and further tinkering since has, in general, not helped.
The Raynsford Review raises concerns over Permitted Development Rights (PDR) based on RICS research reports published earlier this year. This states that; “overall, office-to-residential PD has been a fiscal giveaway from the state to private sector real estate interests, while leaving a legacy of a higher quantum of poor quality housing than is seen with schemes governed through full planning permission”.
It results in Raynsford questioning the use of PDRs, which lead to the loss of developer contributions and bypasses the control of planners, and a ‘permissive and light-touch’ planning system in general.
In his recommendations, Raynsford also calls for “A cross-sector compact on the values of planning” and the “Introduction of a ‘Do no harm’ obligation in built environment professional codes of conduct”. He calls on RICS and other professional bodies to collaborate – an action we will be following up with him and his team.
RICS professionals have cited difficulties with planning applications as one of the three top issues that delay the provision of new homes and RICS policy has, for several years, called for greater government investment in beleaguered local authority planning teams.
When the Raynsford Review, funded by the Town and Country Planning Association, states there is “widespread disenchantment with the planning system as currently operating, and its perceived failure to deliver the outcomes the country needs and deserves” few would disagree.
The report highlights the need for a root and branch reform of the planning system rather than the use of nudge theory which has been the approach so far. The danger comes from the Law of Unintended Consequences, so any reform must tread carefully.
At the heart of the review are ideals around democracy and accountability, reflecting concerns from communities interviewed about the lack of ownership over their areas.
Raynsford’s vision is for empowered local authorities that could act as master developers, with a stronger role for the National Infrastructure Commission and Homes England to provide more strategic support and guidance to both central and regional governments. The report also recognises the need to attract, encourage and increase standards for planners.
The lack of property skills in local authority has been long documented by RICS, and we would add the need to attract and empower surveyors and other property professionals to ensure local authorities have the full range of skills necessary to create the kind of places their citizens aspire to.
This is particularly necessary if we are to tackle the issue of ‘betterment value’ as stated in the report. Land value issues such as ‘hope value’, the notion of land value uplift and mechanisms for clawing excessive profits back for the good of society are all tackled.
This is currently a ‘hot potato’ for the sector. Land owners, developers and builders have expressed nervousness at the current national discussion on land value capture and rightly so. Past efforts to do this – e.g. the Betterment Levy – have usually led to sector paralysis which is not what we need at a time of housing crisis.
Even the government web site states: “History has shown that attempts to capture land value increases have had mixed success. Governments have struggled to strike the right balance between capturing fair values for the community, without undermining incentives for private sector participation in the market, and in a way that is politically acceptable to all major parties.”