Posted: 08 Jul. 2020 10 min. read

Change is coming to the planning system

As the UK emerges from lockdown and prepares for the post COVID-19 world, reform to the town planning system is at the top of the agenda. The Prime Minister’s senior adviser has been quoted as wanting to “take an axe” to the planning system, and the Government has announced a raft of measures, dubbed the “most radical reforms to our planning system since the Second World War”.

Further recognition that the built environment is at the forefront of the strategy for economic recovery comes from the PM’s new slogan to “Build, Build, Build”.

The full extent of the proposed measures are due to be published in a planning “Policy Paper” before the summer recess. However, the Government’s announcements have provided a firm steer as to the direction of travel and are described as a “plan for comprehensive reform of England’s seven-decade old planning system”. The key message is that change is coming.

The questions remain about how big and bold these changes will be; whether they can be implemented quickly; and if they will be any different to previous attempts to speed up and simplify the planning system.

In a recent interview the Secretary of State for Housing, Robert Jenrick, explained that the policy paper will “rethink planning from first principles” to speed up and simplify the planning process. The ambition is to get Britain building and fast. An Advisory Panel, including economist Bridget Rosewell CBE and property developer Sir Stuart Lipton, has been established to look into substantial changes, with speculation that a new zoning system could be introduced. Zoning areas for specific uses and forms of development could radically change the way that the planning system operates, but it would not be a quick fix and could take years to be properly operational.

In the meantime, in what is called a “move to kick start the construction industry and speed up re-building”, a raft of initial reforms were announced on 30 June. These changes are intended to help High Streets adapt and diversify in the face of challenges to retail over the last few years and the COVID-19 induced downturn, and to quickly increase home building.

The reforms are proposed to come into effect by September 2020, and include:

  • More types of commercial premises having total flexibility to be repurposed through reform of the Use Classes Order. A building used for retail, for instance, would be able to be permanently used as a café or office without requiring a planning application and local authority approval. Pubs, libraries, village shops and other types of uses essential to the lifeblood of communities will not be covered by these flexibilities.
  • A wider range of commercial buildings will be allowed to change to residential use without the need for a planning application.
  • Builders will no longer need a normal planning application to demolish and rebuild vacant and redundant residential and commercial buildings if they are rebuilt as homes.
  • Property owners will be able to build additional space above their properties via a fast track approval process, subject to neighbor consultation.

As always with the planning system, the devil will be in the detail as to how these and other measures are brought forward and implemented. For example, the Government will want to ensure that new homes provide sufficient quality of living standards, and to avoid the type of criticism that has been made about some of the homes that have been created through the permitted development right (PDR) to convert office to residential use. It has started to do this by recently introducing a requirement that homes delivered through PDR must provide adequate natural light in all habitable rooms.

The initial planning reforms are only one step in how the real estate sector can help the country’s economic recovery. A series of financial measures to support home building across England were also introduced in the 30 June statement, and the Government is proposing a review of how public sector land can be managed and released so it can be put to better use.

However, the most interest will be in the anticipated changes to comprehensively reform the planning system that are promised in the forthcoming policy paper. We will closely watch this evolving situation and consider how quickly the proposed reforms can start to make a difference to the delivery of new homes and economic development.

If you require further information on the Government’s planning reforms and to discuss the implications for your business, please contact Deloitte’s Planning Team.

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Key contacts

Mark Underwood

Mark Underwood


Mark is leads the town planning team within the Development & Assurance group in Real Assets Advisory. He has broad experience in the working of the planning system, including the submission of planning applications, expert witness advice in connection with planning and related inquiries and planning advice of a general nature. Mark is also accredited by the Institute of Environmental Management & Assessment.

Jeremy Castle

Jeremy Castle


Jeremy Castle’s career spans more than 25 years. He is well known as a leader of planning teams for major urban regeneration projects. He has worked on a wide variety of development projects as an adviser and on the client side. As a client, his most recognisable projects are Central Saint Giles and Battersea Power Station. Since joining Deloitte’s London Planning team in 2012, he has led planning teams for major projects in London, including the reuse of the Broadcast/Media Centres on the Olympic Park for a new technology hub, the regeneration of former gasworks, and the redevelopment of a central London housing estate. Jeremy also spent more than 2 years seconded into the Property Development team of one of the Planning & Development Group’s largest public sector clients, where he led projects across London through the planning stage.