The Government is proposing sweeping reforms to overhaul the 'outdated' planning system and 'get the country building'.

It says its 'Planning for the future' white paper aims to 'streamline process, cut red tape and harness technology to deliver homes faster'. The proposals include:

- introducing zonal development in towns and cities by earmarking land as 'Growth', 'Renewal' or 'Protected' - with outline planning permission becoming automatic for developments in 'Growth'

- introducing a 'pattern book' approach involving national and local 'design codes' to speed up development

- scrapping Section 106 agreements under which developers provide a proportion of affordable housing or pay towards the cost of vital infrastructure such as schools, and replacing these with an 'Infrastructure Levy' that would be paid once a development was completed (not in advance, as now).

"Our complex planning system has been a barrier to building the homes people need," said housing secretary Robert Jenrick. "It takes seven years to agree local housing plans and five years just to get a spade in the ground. These once in a generation reforms will lay the foundations for a brighter future, providing more homes and creating better quality neighbourhoods. We will cut red tape, but not standards. Planning decisions will be simple and transparent, with local democracy at the heart of the process."

York Press:

We will cut red tape but not standards, says Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick

But is any of that true?

One of the problems with the proposals, according Mike Slater, City of York Council's assistant director for economy and place, is that there is simply not enough detail in the white paper to know what the impact will be.

Would planners be able to safeguard the local character of a city like York? We don't know. Would they be able to protect views of York Minster? We don't know. How would councils work with neighbouring authorities on large schemes that cross boundaries? We don't know.

Local authorities have until October 29 to comment on the proposals. "But in many areas (of the white paper) there's not enough information," Mr Slater said. "It is hard to give an informed response if you haven't got the detail."

The council's executive member for strategic planning Cllr Andrew Waller goes further. He believes the proposals are rushed, and that they could result in fewer houses being built in York rather than more, less chance for local people to have a say - and a poorer standard of building, because there would be less chance to challenge what developers are doing.

So what will the proposals mean for York, should they become law? Here, we look at some key issues...

Would there be a risk of 'identikit design' in York?

Quite possibly. The proposals would see a 'zonal' approach to development in York, with land assigned into one of three categories. These would be:

  • 'Growth', classed as ‘suitable for substantial development’. There would be automatic outline planning permission for the principle of development, with the council having a say over 'technical matters' only, says Mike Slater.
  • 'Renewal', classed as ‘suitable for development’. There would be a 'presumption in favour of development', says Mr Slater, with a faster application process and a new, quicker route for giving planning consent
  • Protected', to include green belt, conservation areas and flood risk areas.

Much planning control would be through 'pattern books' (there would be 'permitted development of popular and replicable forms of development' using such books, Mr Slater said) and through national and local 'design codes'. These could, in theory, include restrictions on things like height of buildings, density of development, and materials to be used.

Local authorities would have 12 months to develop their own local design codes. Developments which complied with design codes would get fast-track approval. But it is unclear, Mr Slater said, whether local design codes would take precedence over national ones.

There would, anyway, be problems with developing good local design codes, says Dr Duncan Marks of the York Civic Trust, who has drafted a response to the Government's proposals. A city-wide design code would be bland and generic, meaning that quirky areas of York could lose their character in a move towards 'identikit design'. If design codes were developed for each area of the city, meanwhile, there would be need to be a huge amount of detail. "New York’s design code... runs to over 4,000 pages," he said.

York Press:

Dr Duncan Marks: fears of 'identikit design'

There would generally be a move towards a much more centralised planning system, Dr Marks added. "This is seen in the prominence of central government agencies (e.g. Homes England) and in...a standardised, automated process for local plans and design codes. Such centralisation would be detrimental to local-decision making."

This could result in shoddy, poorer quality developments, said Cllr Waller: the fast-track approach to planning would mean less chance for local planners to challenge what a developer was doing.

Would we get more new homes?

One of the key aims of the reforms is to 'get Britain building again' and deliver more of the homes we desperately need, and more quickly. As part of this, the Government proposes to change the way housing need is assessed. It wants to introduce a new 'standard method' which 'ensures enough land is released in the areas where affordability is worst'.

However, City of York Council says applying the new method would give York a housing requirement figure of 763 new homes each year. At the moment, the figure is 1066 new homes every year. If this is right, the reforms could result in fewer new homes being built in York, not more.

Will local people still be consulted?

The Government says that, under the proposals, local communities 'will be consulted from the very beginning of the planning process. By harnessing the latest technology through online maps and data, the whole system will be made more accessible'.

But not everyone is able to use the 'latest technology' or would know how to access online maps and data, says Cllr Waller. The proposals would also do away with the need for planning applications to be publicised in the local press or by means of notices attached to street lamps in local neighbourhoods.

That is how many local people find out about plans affecting their area, he said. "That is a crucial part of democracy." If local people aren't are of planning applications affecting their area, they can't complain about them to their local councillors - and a vital way of challenging plans is lost.

Would Minster views be protected?

The white paper talks about encouraging 'gentle densities' within city centres to enable more development. Dr Marks finds this very worrying. For years, he says, planners in York have been mainly able to protect long-distance views of the Minster, for example. "Any pressures...for greater density to result in aggressive vertical expansion would comprise the prevalence of the Minster and its key views," he said.

York Press:

Might higher-density development threaten views of York Minster?

What would be the impact on green belt?

The Government says that under the proposals development on green belt land 'will continue to be restricted as it is now'.

But the whole aim of the reforms is to simplify and streamline local plans and the local planning process, and to rely more on a national planning policy framework. The council is worried about local evidence and knowledge not carrying the same weight as it does now.

  • Find out more about the Government's proposed planning reforms here