Moves to slash red tape and hand automatic planning permission to some homes – and projects like schools and hospitals – are being unveiled by Boris Johnson.
A radical blueprint hailed as a “once-in-a-generation reform” is being published by the government with the aim of sweeping away “slow and complex” planning laws.
The shake-up, a key part of the prime minister’s “build, build, build” agenda, also includes automatic planning approval for new homes on land earmarked for growth.
The housing revolution comes in a government consultation paper, Planning For The Future, published by Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick just weeks after he became embroiled in a planning row.
Mr Jenrick has faced calls to resign after helping former newspaper tycoon Richard Desmond avoid a £45m tax bill on a housing development by rushing it through after Mr Desmond lobbied him.
The government is also likely to face a backlash against its shake-up, which rips up laws dating back to the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act, from traditional Conservative supporters in the Tory shires.
But a defiant Mr 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.”
The measures are already being attacked by Labour.
“This is a developer’s charter that will see communities sidelined in decisions and denied vital funding for building schools, clinics and community infrastructure,” said shadow housing minister Mike Amesbury.
Under the planning overhaul, the government is proposing to divide land into three categories:
• Land suitable for growth, approved for development as soon as plans are prepared
• Renewal areas, for quicker development
• Green Belt land, still restricted and subject to local authority approval
The government claims designating land for growth will mean new homes, schools, shops and businesses can be built quickly and efficiently. Ministers are also promising that all new streets will be tree-lined.
But Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, led opposition to the government’s proposals, declaring: “Decades of political decisions have left social housing gravely endangered.
“If the government now removes the requirement for developers to build their fair share it could face extinction. Over a million households on waiting lists for social homes risk having their hopes dashed.
“The government says it wants to build beautiful, but that cannot be only for a fortunate few. Struggling renters and key workers with no savings face being left behind.
“This pandemic has shown us the importance of safe home like nothing before, but a safe home will remain a pipe dream for too many if the government fails to invest in social housing. Cutting up the planning system must not result in cutting social homes.”
Nikki Williams of the Wildlife Trust said: “Government proposals for ‘tree-lined streets’ are nothing like enough.
“Parks, green spaces and all the areas around our homes must be part of a wild network of nature-rich areas that will benefit bees and birds as much as it will enable people to connect with on-your-doorstep nature every single day.
“This is essential if we are to tackle the twin climate and biodiversity crises as well as provide homes that people want to live in surrounded by beautiful, buzzing green spaces.”
And Tom Fyans, of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: “The key acid test for the planning reforms is community involvement, and on first reading it’s still not clear how this will work under a zoning system.
“Although we welcome the government’s commitment to all areas having a local plan in place, we also need robust legal guarantees that the public are consulted regarding new development.”
Cllr James Jamieson, Chairman of the Local Government Association, said: “Any loss of local control over developments would be a concern. It would deprive communities of the ability to define the area they live in and know best and risk giving developers the freedom to ride roughshod over local areas.”
But the government insists that local communities will be consulted from the beginning of the planning process and valued green spaces will be protected for future generations by allowing for more building on brownfield land.