White Paper: Planning for the Future


August 2020 Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government


© Crown copyright, 2020

Copyright in the typographical arrangement rests with the Crown.

Pillar One – Planning for development


2.1.      The starting point for an effective planning system is to establish a clear and predictable basis for the pattern and form of development in an area. The current system of land use planning in England is principally based on local plans, brought forward by local planning authorities on behalf of their communities. But in contrast to planning systems in places like Japan, the Netherlands and Germany, where plans give greater certainty that development is permitted in principle upfront, plans in England are policy-based, with a separate process required to secure permission on the sites that it designates for development.

2.2       Local Plans are a good foundation on which to base reform, as they provide a route for local requirements to be identified and assessed, a forum for political debate and for different views on the future of areas to be heard. The National Planning Policy Framework provides a clear basis for those matters that are best set in national policy. 

2.3       However, change is needed. Layers of assessment, guidance and policy have broadened the scope of Local Plans, requiring a disproportionate burden of evidence to support them. As a result, Local Plans take increasingly long to produce, on average over seven years; have become lengthier documents of increasing complexity, in some cases stretching to nearly 500 pages; are underpinned by vast swathes of evidence base documents, often totalling at least ten times the length of the plan itself, and none of which are clearly linked, standardised, or produced in accessible formats; and include much unnecessary repetition of national policy. 

2.4       It is difficult for users of the planning system to find the information they need, and when they do, it is difficult to understand. Few people read the array of evidence base documents which accompany plans and these assessments do not sufficiently aid decision-making. Much of this evidence becomes dated very quickly, and production times often render policies out of date as soon as they are adopted. Furthermore, even when the plan is in place, it cannot be relied on as the definitive statement of how development proposals should be handled.

2.5       Local Plans should instead be focused on where they can add real value: allocating enough land for development in the right places, giving certainty about what can be developed on that land, making the process for getting permission for development as simple as possible, and providing local communities a genuine opportunity to shape those decisions. To this end, Local Plans should:

      be based on transparent, clear requirements for local authorities to identify appropriate levels of, and locations for, development that provide certainty and that applicants and communities can easily understand;

      communicate key information clearly and visually so that plans are accessible and easily understandable, and communities can engage meaningfully in the process of developing them;

      be published as standardised data to enable a strategic national map of planning to be created;

      be developed using a clear, efficient and standard process; 

      benefit from a radically and profoundly re-invented engagement with local communities so that more democracy takes place effectively at the plan-making stage; and

      set clear expectations on what is required on land that is identified for development, so that plans give confidence in the future growth of areas and facilitate the delivery of beautiful and sustainable places.


1.  What three words do you associate most with the planning system in England?

2.  Do you get involved with planning decisions in your local area?

[Yes / No]

2(a). If no, why not?

[Don’t know how to / It takes too long / It’s too complicated / I don’t care / Other – please specify]

3.  Our proposals will make it much easier to access plans and contribute your views to planning decisions. How would you like to find out about plans and planning proposals in the future?

[Social media / Online news / Newspaper / By post / Other – please specify]

4.  What are your top three priorities for planning in your local area?

[Building homes for young people / building homes for the homeless / Protection of green spaces / The environment, biodiversity and action on climate change / Increasing the affordability of housing / The design of new homes and places / Supporting the high street / Supporting the local economy / More or better local infrastructure / Protection of existing heritage buildings or areas / Other – please specify]




Proposal 1: The role of land use plans should be simplified. We propose that Local Plans should identify three types of land – Growth areas suitable for substantial development, Renewal areas suitable for development, and areas that are Protected.  



5. Do you agree that Local Plans should be simplified in line with our proposals? [Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]


Proposal 2: Development management policies established at national scale and an altered role for Local Plans.


6. Do you agree with our proposals for streamlining the development management content of Local Plans, and setting out general development management policies nationally?  [Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]


Proposal 3: Local Plans should be subject to a single statutory “sustainable development” test, replacing the existing tests of soundness. 


7(a). Do you agree with our proposals to replace existing legal and policy tests for Local Plans with a consolidated test of “sustainable development”, which would include consideration of environmental impact? 

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

7(b). How could strategic, cross-boundary issues be best planned for in the absence of a formal Duty to Cooperate? 


Proposal 4: A standard method for establishing housing requirement figures which ensures enough land is released in the areas where affordability is worst, to stop land supply being a barrier to enough homes being built. The housing requirement would factor in land constraints and opportunities to more effectively use land, including through densification where appropriate, to ensure that the land is identified in the most appropriate areas and housing targets are met.


8(a). Do you agree that a standard method for establishing housing requirements (that takes into account constraints) should be introduced?

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

8(b). Do you agree that affordability and the extent of existing urban areas are appropriate indicators of the quantity of development to be accommodated?

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]



Proposal 5: Areas identified as Growth areas (suitable for substantial development) would automatically be granted outline planning permission for the principle of development, while automatic approvals would also be available for pre-established development types in other areas suitable for building.


9(a). Do you agree that there should be automatic outline permission for areas for substantial development (Growth areas) with faster routes for detailed consent?

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

9(b). Do you agree with our proposals above for the consent arrangements for Renewal and Protected areas?  

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

9(c). Do you think there is a case for allowing new settlements to be brought forward under the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects regime?  

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]


Proposal 6: Decision-making should be faster and more certain, with firm deadlines, and make greater use of digital technology 


10. Do you agree with our proposals to make decision-making faster and more certain? [Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]



Proposal 7: Local Plans should be visual and map-based, standardised, based on the latest digital technology, and supported by a new template. 


11. Do you agree with our proposals for accessible, web-based Local Plans? [Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]




Proposal 8: Local authorities and the Planning Inspectorate will be required through legislation to meet a statutory timetable for key stages of the process, and we will consider what sanctions there would be for those who fail to do so. 


12. Do you agree with our proposals for a 30 month statutory timescale for the production of Local Plans? 

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]


Proposal 9: Neighbourhood Plans should be retained as an important means of community input, and we will support communities to make better use of digital tools


13(a). Do you agree that Neighbourhood Plans should be retained in the reformed planning system? 

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

13(b). How can the neighbourhood planning process be developed to meet our objectives, such as in the use of digital tools and reflecting community preferences about design?



Proposal 10: A stronger emphasis on build out through planning


14. Do you agree there should be a stronger emphasis on the build out of developments? And if so, what further measures would you support? 

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]



Pillar Two – Planning for beautiful and sustainable places


3.1.      We have set out how a simpler planning process could improve certainty about what can be built where, as well as offering greater flexibility in the use of land to meet our changing economic and social needs. But improving the process of planning is only the starting point – we want to ensure that we have a system in place that enables the creation of beautiful places that will stand the test of time, protects and enhances our precious environment, and supports our efforts to combat climate change and bring greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050. Recent research from the Royal Town Planning Institute has set out the vital contribution that planning can make to a sustainable and inclusive recovery.[1]  

3.2.      To do this, planning should be a powerful tool for creating visions of how places can be, engaging communities in that process and fostering high quality development: not just beautiful buildings, but the gardens, parks and other green spaces in between, as well as the facilities which are essential for building a real sense of community. It should generate net gains for the quality of our built and natural environments - not just ‘no net harm’.

3.3.      As the report of the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission has shown, all too often that potential has fallen short. Too many places built during recent decades fail to reflect what is special about their local area or create a high quality environment of which local people can be proud. The Commission has played an invaluable role not just in highlighting the deficiencies, but in setting out a wide range of recommendations for addressing them. We will respond fully to the Commission’s report in the autumn, but there are important aspects that we want to highlight now, as being integral to our proposals for what a revised planning system can achieve.


15.         What do you think about the design of new development that has happened recently in your area?

[Not sure or indifferent / Beautiful and/or well-designed / Ugly and/or poorly-designed / There hasn’t been any / Other – please specify]

16.         Sustainability is at the heart of our proposals. What is your priority for sustainability in your area?

[Less reliance on cars / More green and open spaces / Energy efficiency of new buildings / More trees / Other – please specify]






Proposal 11: To make design expectations more visual and predictable, we will expect design guidance and codes to be prepared locally with community involvement, and ensure that codes are more binding on decisions about development.


17. Do you agree with our proposals for improving the production and use of design guides and codes?

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

Proposal 12: To support the transition to a planning system which is more visual and rooted in local preferences and character, we will set up a body to support the delivery of provably locally-popular design codes, and propose that each authority should have a chief officer for design and place-making.


18. Do you agree that we should establish a new body to support design coding and building better places, and that each authority should have a chief officer for design and place-making?

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]


Proposal 13: To further embed national leadership on delivering better places, we will consider how Homes England’s strategic objectives can give greater emphasis to delivering beautiful places.


19. Do you agree with our proposal to consider how design might be given greater emphasis in the strategic objectives for Homes England?

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]



Proposal 14: We intend to introduce a fast-track for beauty through changes to national policy and legislation, to incentivise and accelerate high quality development which reflects local character and preferences.


20. Do you agree with our proposals for implementing a fast-track for beauty?

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]



Proposal 15: We intend to amend the National Planning Policy Framework to ensure that it targets those areas where a reformed planning system can most effectively play a role in mitigating and adapting to climate change and maximising environmental benefits. 

Proposal 16: We intend to design a quicker, simpler framework for assessing environmental impacts and enhancement opportunities, that speeds up the process while protecting and enhancing the most valuable and important habitats and species in England.

Proposal 17: Conserving and enhancing our historic buildings and areas  in the 21st century

Proposal 18: To complement our planning reforms, we will facilitate ambitious improvements in the energy efficiency standards for buildings to help deliver our world-leading commitment to net-zero by 2050. 



Pillar Three – Planning for infrastructure and connected places


4.1.      New development brings with it new demand for public services and infrastructure. Mitigating these impacts – by securing contributions from developers and capturing more land value uplift generated by planning decisions to deliver new infrastructure provision – is key for both new and existing communities. It is also central to our vision for renewal of the planning system.

4.2.      At present, there are two broad routes for local planning authorities to secure developer contributions, both of which are discretionary for authorities: planning obligations and the Community Infrastructure Levy. Planning obligations – through Section 106 agreements – are negotiated with developers, and in 2018/19 were worth a total of £7bn, of which £4.7bn was in the form of affordable housing contributions – supporting delivery of 30,000 affordable homes. In contrast, the Community Infrastructure Levy is a fixed charge, levied on the area (floorspace) of new development, and secures infrastructure that addresses the cumulative impact of development in an area. The Community Infrastructure Levy is not mandatory for local planning authorities, and around half of authorities currently charge it. Levy rates are discretionary, established by assessments of infrastructure need and viability. 

4.3.      There are several problems with this system. Planning obligations are broadly considered to be uncertain and opaque, as they are subject to negotiation and renegotiation based in part on the developer’s assessment of viability. This creates uncertainty for communities about the level of affordable housing and infrastructure that development will bring. In turn, this brings cost, delay and inconsistency into the process. Over 80 per cent of local authorities agree that such negotiations create delay, despite the planning application being acceptable in principle.[2] This acts as a barrier to entry to the market, and major developers are better placed to devote the legal and valuation resource needed to negotiate successfully. This unevenness is a problem too for local authorities, with significant variation in skill and negotiation in negotiating viability across authorities. 

4.4.      The Community Infrastructure Levy addresses many of these problems as it is a flat-rate and non-negotiable tariff, and developers and local authorities have, in general, welcomed the certainty it brings. However, as payment is set at the point planning permission is granted, and payment due once development commences, it is inflexible in the face of changing market conditions. Payment before a single home has been built increases the developer’s risk and cost of finance, creating cashflow challenges which are more acute for smaller developers. And despite early payment, many local authorities have been slow to spend Community Infrastructure Levy revenue on early infrastructure delivery, reflecting factors

including indecision, competing spending priorities, and uncertainty over other infrastructure funding streams.

4.5.      Securing necessary infrastructure and affordable housing alongside new development is central to our vision for the planning system. We want to bring forward reforms to make sure that developer contributions are:

      responsive to local needs, to ensure a fairer contribution from developers for local communities so that the right infrastructure and affordable housing is delivered;

      transparent, so it is clear to existing and new residents what new infrastructure will accompany development;

      consistent and simplified, to remove unnecessary delay and support competition in the housebuilding industry;

      buoyant, so that when prices go up the benefits are shared fairly between developers and the local community, and when prices go down there is no need to re-negotiate agreements.

4.6.      The Government could also seek to use developer contributions to capture a greater proportion of the land value uplift that occurs through the grant of planning permission, and use this to enhance infrastructure delivery. There are a range of estimates for the amount of land value uplift currently captured, from 25 to 50 per cent. The value captured will depend on a range of factors including the development value, the existing use value of the land, and the relevant tax structure – for instance, whether capital gains tax applies to the land sale. Increasing value capture could be an important source of infrastructure funding but would need to be balanced against risks to development viability.


22. When new development happens in your area, what is your priority for what comes with it?

[More affordable housing / More or better infrastructure (such as transport, schools, health provision) / Design of new buildings / More shops and/or employment space / Green space / Don’t know / Other – please specify]



Proposal 19: The Community Infrastructure Levy should be reformed to be charged as a fixed proportion of the development value above a threshold, with a mandatory nationally-set rate or rates and the current system of planning obligations abolished.


23(a). Should the Government replace the Community Infrastructure Levy and Section 106 planning obligations with a new consolidated Infrastructure Levy, which is charged as a fixed proportion of development value above a set threshold?

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

23(b). Should the Infrastructure Levy rates be set nationally at a single rate, set nationally at an area-specific rate, or set locally?

[Nationally at a single rate / Nationally at an area-specific rate / Locally]

23(c). Should the Infrastructure Levy aim to capture the same amount of value overall, or more value, to support greater investment in infrastructure, affordable housing and local communities?

[Same amount overall / More value / Less value / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

23(d). Should we allow local authorities to borrow against the Infrastructure Levy, to support infrastructure delivery in their area?

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]



Proposal 20: The scope of the Infrastructure Levy could be extended to capture changes of use through permitted development rights


24. Do you agree that the scope of the reformed Infrastructure Levy should capture changes of use through permitted development rights?

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]


Proposal 21: The reformed Infrastructure Levy should deliver affordable housing provision 



25(a). Do you agree that we should aim to secure at least the same amount of affordable housing under the Infrastructure Levy, and as much on-site affordable provision, as at present?

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

25(b). Should affordable housing be secured as in-kind payment towards the Infrastructure Levy, or as a ‘right to purchase’ at discounted rates for local authorities?

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

25(c). If an in-kind delivery approach is taken, should we mitigate against local authority overpayment risk?

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

25(d). If an in-kind delivery approach is taken, are there additional steps that would need to be taken to support affordable housing quality?

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]


Proposal 22: More freedom could be given to local authorities over how they spend the Infrastructure Levy


26. Should local authorities have fewer restrictions over how they spend the Infrastructure Levy? 

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]

26(a). If yes, should an affordable housing ‘ring-fence’ be developed?

[Yes / No / Not sure. Please provide supporting statement.]


Delivering change

Proposal 23: As we develop our final proposals for this new planning system, we will develop a comprehensive resources and skills strategy for the planning sector to support the implementation of our reforms. In doing so, we propose this strategy will be developed including the following key elements:

Proposal 24: We will seek to strengthen enforcement powers and sanctions

5.29. We will review and strengthen the existing planning enforcement powers and


What happens next

Equalities Impacts



27. Do you have any views on the potential impact of the proposals raised in this consultation on people with protected characteristics as defined in section 149 of the Equality Act 2010? 



[1] RTPI (2020) “Plan the world we need: The contribution of planning to a sustainable, resilient and inclusive recovery”, available at: https://www.rtpi.org.uk/research/2020/june/plan-the-world-we-need/.

[2] MHCLG (2019) The Value and Incidence of Developer Contributions in England 2018/19