DTLR green paper outlines five key changes to planning, designed to cut out red tape and involve communities.
Radical government proposals to overhaul the planning system were published this week to a mixed response from the industry.

Housebuilders welcomed the proposals put forward in the planning green paper unreservedly because they believe the changes will speed up the planning process. But others remained unconvinced that all the recommendations, particularly over community involvement, are workable.

The paper, unveiled by local government secretary Stephen Byers on Wednesday, outlined five key changes:

  • Local authorities will have to process 60% of major commercial applications within 13 weeks.
  • The deadline for launching appeals against planning applications will be reduced from six to three months.
  • Developers will be allowed to build in so-called "business zones" without specific planning approval. The zones will be restricted to certain types of development, such as offices for IT companies.
  • Planning applications for householders and businesses will be separated, and major development schemes will be prioritised.
  • Developers and housebuilders will be expected to consult local communities in advance of submitting major applications.

Plans to simplify and revamp compulsory purchase orders were also unveiled.

The green paper is the first of several planning documents. Next week, supplementary papers on planning gain agreements and major infrastructure projects are expected.

The DTLR proposes to involve communities with planning applications by replacing the multitiered structure with an overall "local development framework" that would include a "statement of community" element, listing objectives agreed by local people.

People are fed up to the back teeth with the current system

Lord Falconer, planning minister

The National Housing Federation welcomed the plans, saying: "The federation fully endorses the proposals for stronger, integrated plans that will lead to greater regional autonomy."

But some industry observers were less sure. Jane Vlach, information manager with planning consultant Robert Turley Associates, said it would be difficult to engage the community in planning proposals.

The House Builders Federation added that communities and housebuilders would have to find common ground. A spokesperson said: "It is important that communities realise there is a need for new housing, and that they take this opportunity to get involved so there is less opposition to it."

Byers said greater interaction between developers and communities was vital. He said: "It is bizarre that at the beginning of the 21st century, people find out about planning decisions that affect them from a card tied to a lamp post."