Referring to the much debated White Paper proposals for a zonal system of planning, Housing minister, Chris Pincher, said at the end of last week:
“In areas that we have designated as ‘growth’ sites, a local plan can set design and density standards, and describe the infrastructure expected from developers in those areas. If the developers tick all the up-front boxes agreed in the plan and consulted on with local people, they will get their outline planning permission to begin their building process, [though] they will still need to keep coming back to the local authority for consents.”
This sounds awfully like a rebadging of an approach that has operated for decades. Surely Pincher’s description fits – to a greater or lesser degree – Enterprise Zones, Simplified Planning Zones, areas subject to Local Development Orders, areas subject to Development Corporations and areas subject to Neighbourhood Development Orders? The principle of shining the spotlight on a particular area, and giving developers relatively free rein provided they adhere to pre-determined rules, is nothing new.
Re-formulating the reforms like this is an obvious way of ducking the considerable criticism that has been levelled at the zonal proposals from many sides, and freshening up old concepts is never a bad idea. However, we ought to be conscious that these initiatives have had variable, and sometimes limited, success in the past. Therefore, if we are to see anything that is really better, some serious thinking needs to be done, drawing on a large amount of accumulated experience that exists in the planning system. If the new “Growth Zones” turned out to be nothing more than a rehash of SPZs, an opportunity would have been wasted.