New London Architecture

NLA responds to government’s Planning White Paper on implications for Greater London

Thursday 29 October 2020

In August, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government published ‘Planning for the Future’, its White Paper setting out the Government's proposals for ‘once in a generation’ reform to the planning system in England.

NLA has this week submitted its response to the government’s consultation, focusing on the impact of the proposed planning reforms on Greater London. As the independent centre for London’s built environment, NLA’s membership represents a broad cross-industry response, from the development community to local authorities, planners, architects and others.
NLA’s response has been led by the NLA Expert Panel on Planning, informed by an extensive NLA member survey and with soundings from the New London Sounding Board, which was set up to provide a cross-industry voice to the debate surrounding major change in the capital. View the full response here and the NLA member survey in graphs here.
The response demonstrates support for the strategic objectives presented by the White Paper to make the planning system more accessible, transparent and certain, with 84% of member organisations surveyed supportive of digitalis­­ation of the system, and 55% for shorter, more focused Local Plans. However, NLA also raises concerns about the implications of some these changes for London.
Currently 61% of the survey respondents do not believe that local authorities will be adequately resourced to manage the new Local Plan process. NLA warns that success of these reforms will be dependent upon proper skilling and investment into local authorities. 
A more nuanced approach is needed to the land categorisations of ‘Growth’, ‘Renewal’ and ‘Protect’, NLA says. Under this categorisation, many areas of London would be granted ‘Protected’ status where development is both possible and desirable. NLA suggests that the inclusion of a ‘Sensitive’ category would recognise the capacity for growth within some conservation areas, especially in central urban locations.
The reforms place much positive focus on housing delivery and good design, yet less emphasis has been made on supporting the economic recovery of central urban areas. NLA highlights that the renewed planning system must prioritise non-housing matters too, vital for London’s post-COVID recovery strategy. 
NLA welcomes the focus on good design throughout the reforms, including through the establishment of a new design body and introduction of a chief officer for design and placemaking in each local authority. However, with 64% of respondents indicating that standard design codes may not lead to better design quality, NLA warns that it is important a future National Design Code does not have the unintended consequence of levelling down design ingenuity.
NLA also welcomes the objective for greater community engagement but says that this currently appears too restricted to the plan-making stage, when development could come forward many years after the adoption of a Local Plan. A lack of community engagement throughout the lifecycle could have the potential unintended consequence of slowing down rather than speeding up decision making. Community engagement should also not be overly reliant on digital means only, NLA says. 
NLA notes that the proposals need to go further to ‘place sustainability at the heart of the planning system’ and to advance and embed a holistic approach to health, wellbeing and climate resilience into our national policies. London has made world leading commitments to become a net zero city by 2030. To help fulfil these commitments, this proposal should be integrated with other national commitments such as the Climate Change Act, and bring forward our national target to make all homes carbon neutral.

Catherine Staniland, Director, NLA, commented: “NLA’s submission to the Planning White Paper consultation represents a major cross-industry response on the implications of the proposed reforms on Greater London, with detailed input from 100 organisations in our membership across development, planning and design. While we welcome the overall strategic objectives to make the planning system more accessible, transparent and certain, and support its emphasis on good design, we also present concerns about the impact some of these changes will have on Greater London, and call for far greater local authority resourcing to help make these reforms a success. We look forward to engaging with government on the detailed proposals.”

Other comments from the NLA Expert Panel on Planning

Jonny Popper, MD of London Communications Agency and Chair of the NLA’s Expert Panel on Planning where the response to the White Paper was co-ordinated, said:
“There is broad support for simpler, more accessible Local Plans, for digitisation of the system and the focus on good design.  However there is also a clear consensus that the role of a strategic London Plan needs to be enshrined in any reformed system, that designating all land as growth, renewal and protect is too crude to work well in London and that proper community engagement needs to maintained throughout the development process, not only at the plan making stage.  With so much detail still to be understood, we are keen to ensure that flexibility and democratic accountability at a local level is retained, that the increased use of design guides and codes does not lead to a dumbing down in design innovation and, crucially, that local authorities are properly resourced – in both money and skills – to be able to make any reformed system a success.”
Lisa Webb, Partner, Gerald Eve, said:
“The Government’s aspirations for a quicker, more certain and transparent planning system which promotes high quality buildings and places are strongly supported. There is a lot of emphasis in the White Paper on delivering housing nationally which is crucial; however there is also a need for a greater focus on promoting economic development and changes are required in particular to support Central London’s economic, social and environmental wellbeing and role as a world city.”
Robert​ Evans, Joint Managing Partner, Argent and Chair, New London Sounding Board, said:
“The NLA membership, spanning the development community, local authorities, planners, architects and others, broadly supports the strategic objectives of making the planning system more accessible, transparent and certain; and the focus on digitalisation for shorter, more focused Local Plans.  We have put forward constructive suggestions to make the White Paper ideas more workable in London; and urge the Government to place sustainability at the heart of the planning system and properly resource our local planning authorities.”
Peter Barbalov, Partner, Farrells, said:
“The objective of the White Paper to disrupt the current planning system, set up largely to control rather than promote growth and development, has been broadly achieved with the level of debate, analysis, and introspection generated within the industry. We hope that the comments, insights, suggestions, and proposals, do make it into the final version.
Design and placemaking should be prioritised over ‘beauty’, and key considerations on the role of communities, the climate emergency, the increasing in inequality during the pandemic, the structural intergenerational inequality in the housing market, and the uniqueness of London as world Metropolis within the country, should become intrinsic to a reformed and updated planning system.”
Mike Saunders, CEO and Co-Founder, Commonplace, said:
"Our data and experience at Commonplace shows that communities (in London and throughout the UK) want to take a constructive part in decisions that impact them and their neighbourhoods. Empowering them to do so will benefit everyone involved: planners; developers; businesses and communities. There is a great opportunity to rebuild trust, by ensuring people get a meaningful say via continuous engagement throughout the planning lifecycle."

NLA Expert Panel on Planning

Jonny Popper, Managing Director, London Communications Agency
Anisha Jogani, Placemaking Team Leader, London Borough of Croydon 
Anna Sinnott, Planning Director, BDP
Brett Harbutt, Head of Planning, Quintain
Darryl Chen, Partner and Head of Urban Design, Hawkins\Brown
Gordon Ingram, Founding Director & Chairman, VU.CITY     
Lisa Webb, Senior Planning Partner, Gerald Eve
Mike Saunders, CEO (Co-founder), Commonplace     
Peter Barbalov, Partner, Farrells
Peter Kemp, Head of Change and Delivery, Greater London Authority
Riette Oosthuizen, Head of Planning, HTA Design 
Sarah Wardle, Associate Director, BECG
Thomasin Renshaw, Director of Development, Grosvenor Britain & Ireland
Victoria Du Croz, Partner and Head of Planning, Forsters
David Joyce, Director for Housing, Regeneration and Planning, LB Haringey


Planning for the future – London’s View
Friday 13 November, 10-11am
After the consultation of the government’s Planning for the Future white paper, this webinar will hear from Joanna Averley, Chief Planner, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, on the proposed planning reforms and consider their implications for London. 
Free webinar, open to all – register here





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