OPINION

Brighton and Hove has everything to gain from the planning white paper

Posted On 21 Aug 2020 at 12:28 am

The government published the white paper “Planning for the Future” earlier this month and it is out for consultation until Thursday 1 October.

The Labour opposition on Brighton and Hove City Council, in coalition with the Greens, noted here last week that Brighton and Hove will pay a high price for the planning white paper.

But it is not as simple nor as binary as that. If anything, the outcome of the white paper in the city could be to catalyse the excellent work done by my colleagues Robert Nemeth and fellow ward councillors and petitioners to protect important green spaces around the city from development.

In addition to the premise to pick apart England’s post-war planning rulebook and replace it with a radically new system, a new narrative emerges on developers who consistently fail to meet their obligations when given planning permission.

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This is where the Labour opposition fails to understand the potential repercussions of the white paper.

In some places the white paper is both ambitious and challenging and in other places still lacking in detail but asks the right questions. It is a consultation after all and it could all change after Thursday 1 October.

What the white paper clearly signals is that there is a real commitment to change as far as ministers are concerned and hopefully the refined content after the consultation will raise the bar on both content and clarity.

One of the new things coming through is that local plans, including adopted ones like the Brighton and Hove plan, will be overhauled.

This will give residents of the city the opportunity to protect precious green spaces as the Conservatives have called for.

These new-look plans will become more concise and more visual documents, with all the text recently approved by council here for City Plan Part 2 included as part of national policy.

Most of that detail will fall into specifications and standards in design codes. Brighton and Hove will have 42 months to draw up another city plan.

Another ambition in the white paper relates to embracing technology and for local authorities to embed digitisation.

This will be a challenge for Brighton and Hove as we, for example, do not yet have a mapped database of all the telecoms masts in the city.

This has of course hampered our current ability to fight a barrage of planning applications for new masts, even where ones already exist near by as in The Upper Drive.

Councillor Samer Bagaeen

There are also digital tools for engagement with communities that we are trialling out with the Hove Park Neighbourhood Forum. We are also ahead of the curve having commissioned our own design code to meet the beauty requirements demanded in the paper.

A tough one for the city here will also be the abolishing of section 106 obligations and the newly adopted CIL (community infrastructure levy) regulations.

We could have adopted these years ago but did not so we have to live with the consequences.

The government intends to scrap section 106 obligations and introduce just a new consolidated CIL, whereby there will be a fixed proportion of the development value above a certain threshold with a mandatory nationally set rate.

The amount raised depends upon the level of surplus achieved by the sale value of the final development product over a notional base value needed to secure viable development.

This new levy, it is proposed, will finance affordable housing delivery, ensuring responsibility rests with the local authority rather than the developer.

This takes us to the matter of resourcing the new system, and as a professor of planning who’s trained planners across the south east, this is a hugely important part of the jigsaw.

The current system has not been sufficiently resourced in terms of finance and skills, so in addition to technology training, we will need a whole raft of training programmes for planners.

That’s the challenge for the council, its officers and the political leadership. Can they deliver though?

Councillor Professor Samer Bagaeen speaks for the Conservatives on Brighton and Hove City Council’s Health and Wellbeing Board and is a Chartered Town Planner.

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