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Planning reforms receive mixed reaction from NLA expert panel \

NLA’s network of planning experts reacted with wide-ranging concern at radical proposed planning reforms announced by communities secretary Robert Jenrick this week. While many applauded the moves towards greater digitisation of the system, the majority argued that greater investment in planning authorities is needed if such a huge ‘culture change’ can be realised.

NLA expert Darryl Chen's reaction

London is a complex place. The white paper reveals an underlying conviction that the way to deal with complexity is to simplify. I don’t think it’s that simple.

The categorisation of all sites into three types is marvellously simple but the fewer the categories the higher the stakes for those who have an interest in the land, be they local residents, amenity groups or property developers. There is much talk of giving more agency to local voices, however, this can only set the stage for some fierce battles over how land gets their designations locked-in for years. Likewise height and density. Setting absolute limits on height and density would constitute a real planning reform, but I fear this is just shifting the burden of adjudication upstream from development management to policy, and giving clarity to developers while taking it away from locals. Note, local plan allocations already deal with use and usually include guidance on height and density. The presumption in favour of developments in line with allocations already exists.

London’s complex urban fabric demands a planning system that is flexible, gives nuanced guidance and is subject to professional judgement and local scrutiny. Coarse categorisations and potentially homogenising zoning regimes undermine this richness. The London Plan sought to fill the gap in policy directive left in the wake of the slimline NPPF. In a bid not simply to ‘build more’, but to respond to specific issues like industrial intensification and social infrastructure, this encapsulated London’s response: there is a limit to which planning policy can be reduced and simplified.

In terms of local plan making, standardising the format of plans and routinisation through technology can only be a good thing. I also welcome the move to making local plans shorter through enshrining principles within a national policy, but ironically this sounds like the PPGs and PPSs that were scrapped when the NPPF arrived in a bid to ‘reduce red tape’.

The foregrounding of beauty over design is worrying firstly because it is not entirely clear who will be the arbiters of beauty, and secondly that design encompasses a hugely wider range of concerns on which good place-making depends.

Many London boroughs do not have the option of designating large swathes of land for new housing and rely on the densification of a network of brownfield sites. Combined with a renewed push for housing delivery, the affordability test being most acute in London, this is potentially at odds with local resident-informed use, height and density limitations contained in local plans.

Read the NLA expert panel’s reactions in full here...

“London’s complex urban fabric demands a planning system that is flexible, gives nuanced guidance and is subject to professional judgement and local scrutiny. Coarse categorisations and potentially homogenising zoning regimes undermine this richness.”

Darryl Chen, Partner, Head of Urban Design, Hawkins\Brown

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