Coalition planning reform: no big bang; change by a thousand cuts

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By Nick Keable, Vice President, UK Operations, The Saint Consulting Group

So when New Labour came to power, we had a ‘big bang’ planning reform moment: a green paper, much debate, a Bill and finally the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004.

In outline, this legislation tried to do two things at once: it dramatically changed planning policy and at the same time fundamentally reorganised the development control process.  As with all big bangs, there was much heat, not a lot of light, and ‘certainty’ which is the holy grail for all in the development sector, went up in smoke.

The Coalition Government has a new way.  No big bang.  Not even a little bang.  More planning reform by a thousand cuts.  So far we have had:

  • 20 May – The full Coalition Agreement, which laid out exactly what planning reform and associated initiatives the Coalition Government would undertake
  • 27 May – The new Secretary of State, Eric Pickles, announced in an eight line letter that Regional Strategies should be ignored as he was about to kill them off
  • 9 June – Planning Minister Greg Clark announced changes to PPS 3, namely abolishing housing density targets and ‘garden grabbing’ (by which incidentally 25% of all residential development had been delivered in the previous 12 months)
  • 6 July – Eric Pickles killed the Regional Strategies.  They are now revoked, dead, devoid of life, are no more than a footnote in New Labour history
  • 8 July – Publication of the Department for Communities and Local Government ‘Structural Reform Plan’, essentially a timeline of when they are going to do what

And what does all this mean?  In short:

Already enacted – Government Office for London being wound up (other Government offices to follow for sure), Regional Strategies abolished, PPS 3 changed dramatically

Summer 2010 – Local government incentivisation scheme to be announced – we wait with baited breath…

Summer 2011 – The Decentralisation and Localism Act will receive Royal Assent, which will include abolition of the IPC and HIPs, creation of LHTs, a new SSSI style designation for community green space as well as referenda for directly elected mayors in the 12 largest cities and local referenda on any local issue in any local authority area

Nov 2011 – The Queen’s Speech will announce a new Bill to include the remaining elements left over from the Tories’ Open Source Planning green paper

Scary stuff.  And all rather disjointed and protracted.  Certainty there is not.

Nick Keable is vice president, UK operations, for The Saint Consulting Group, email: or phone +44 207 592 7050

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