“Build, build, build” what exactly?

At the end of June, the Prime Minister announced a raft of changes to the planning system to make it “easier to build better homes where people want to live“. These are due to come into effect by September. The statement also annoucened that the government would launch a “planning policy paper” in July “setting out our plan for comprehensive reform of England’s seven-decade old planning system, to introduce a new approach that works better for our modern economy and society”. The industry waits with baited breadth to see what this includes. However, there are suggestions Government thinking has not advanced as far as some would like.

A few weeks ago the Chancellor Rishi Sunak unveiled a £30 billion stimulus package intended to revive the British economy in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. A Treasury document published alongside Sunak’s speech in House of Commons said that planning legislation will be passed this summer “to make it easier to build better homes in the places people want to live”.

“New regulations will make it easier to convert buildings for different uses, including housing, without the need for planning permission”, the document said.

However, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick announced last October that a forthcoming planning Green Paper had been upgraded to a White Paper – whereas the chancellor’s statement referred simply to a “policy paper”.

What’s in a name? A White Paper is a formal statement by Government as to its intentions with regard to a change in legislation or policy and an indication that a strong direction of travel has been decided and agreed. Typically, these follow on from a Green Paper.

A Green Paper is a consultative document where the Government indicates its intended direction of travel but has not yet determined the detailed way forward and is inviting public debate, contribution and consultation.

The problem is that it’s unclear what references to a ‘policy paper’ might mean. It might be a document that sets a direction of travel but does not necessarily invite consultation from industry. Or it might be something even more abstract – a simple indication of where the Government’s thinking is at and a promise to do further thinking. At any rate, the “policy paper” sounds like a fudge.

The industry has high hopes for what might be contained within this document, but given the delay and the confused messages coming out of Government, it would be wise to moderate ones expectations until publication.

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