Planning laws should protect ‘growth, heritage and environment’

Brickwork decoration on property

The government’s plans to reform planning should be used as an opportunity to improve communities and ensure any changes are good for ‘growth, heritage and environment’, says the National Trust.

The Queen’s Speech on 11th May 2021 introduced a new Bill which will shake up planning laws to encourage house building. The ‘Planning for the Future’ white paper consultation preceding the changes attracted over 44,000 responses and the Bill is expected in the autumn.

Planning laws have barely changed since 1947, and the new system aims to cut the red tape that makes planning a costly and slow process.

New ‘growth zones’ will divide England, where planning approval for homes, schools, shops, hospitals and offices will either be automatic or protected, although development even in these areas will be restricted rather than ruled out completely.

Growth zones

Land will be designated by local councils as ‘growth’ or ‘protection’ which will prevent protracted debates over the principle of developments. Growth areas will allow for automatic outline planning permission, as long as they meet local planning rules. A further category, ‘regeneration’, may also be introduced.

Councils will be given 30 months to prepare the spatial zoning plans.

Design codes

To ensure the provision of high quality new homes, a new design code within the planning laws would ban ‘ugliness’, with rules on such things as tree planting and the style of buildings.

Infrastructure levy

An Infrastructure Levy will replace Section 106 agreements, which previously allowed developers to negotiate what they paid towards improvements to local transport, schools and the environment. It is not yet known whether the new system would lead the money to being spent locally or for more major, even national infrastructure projects.


Environmental groups and some developers have expressed reservations over the effectiveness of the new system to deliver the desired improvement to the planning system. The Institute for Economic Affairs has urged the government not to ‘capitulate to NIMBY interests’, while the countryside campaign group, CPREE, did not want local people and councils to lose the right to scrutinise and consider individual applications that shape the place in which they live.

A joint letter from ten organisation wrote to the housing secretary detailing concerns that changes would lead to the building of homes in places that lacked basic facilities including public transport, leading to further car dependency, air pollution and carbon emmissions, and a ‘tide of car traffic’ on Britain’s already overcrowded roads.

The National Trust’s director general, Hilary McGrady, said the Bill should protect a range of planning issues, from “distinctive historic high streets shops to open landscape and countryside”. She called for ‘well-planned and built places’ that encourage tree views and wildlife to improve the areas in which we live. She said the planning system should positively shape community environments but that did not mean it should be used as a “blocker to new homes, growth and development in general”.

The Trust has previously expressed its concerns over the government’s recent planning changes, including extension to the General Permitted Development Order which also applies to conservation areas.

Permitted development amendments bypassed previous planning rules so that home extensions and the conversion of business premises into residential buildings are fast tracked through planning. However, the changes also mean that there is no requirement for the inclusion of affordable housing, green spaces or S106 contributions by developers, making it impossible for Local Authorities to effectively provide what local communities need. It also undermines Local Plans where changes to high streets, town centres, edge of towns and rural locations would be outside the control of planners.

Businesses could also be detrimentally affected by permitted development, in particular in rural areas where residential rental income was higher than non-residential premises. The effect of losing local shops and business through a lack of premises would be detrimental to the local community and economy, as well as to the environment.

Read the National Trust’s response to the government’s ‘Supporting Housing Delivery & Public Service Infrastructure‘ consultation.