CHANGES to the planning system will be discussed at a meeting of West Oxfordshire District Council’s cabinet today.

The cabinet will seek to agree a response to the Government’s consultation on changes to the system.

The possible changes have drawn criticism from council officer Chris Hargraves, the council’s planning policy manager, in the agenda for today’s meeting.

The Government consultation paper focuses on four main topics: the standard method for assessing housing need; delivering first homes (the Government’s latest form of affordable home ownership); raising the small sites threshold for affordable housing provision and extending the current system of ‘permission in principle’ to larger developments.

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The paper is the subject of an 8-week public consultation, which closes on October 1.

The consultation explains that the Government intends to set out in policy that a minimum of 25 per cent of affordable housing units secured through developer contributions should be ‘First Homes’.

In the council documents, Mr Hargraves said: “Whilst First Homes clearly have the potential to play an important role in supporting first-time buyers and others wishing to step onto the housing ladder, it is essential that this is not achieved at the expense of other forms of affordable housing which have an equally important role to play but are less favoured by developers because of the lower return – social rented housing being a case in point.”

The officer’s response added that the principle of First Homes is supported, but should not be imposed in blanket fashion at the direct expense of other affordable housing products.

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Another contentious talking point is the granting of Permission in Principle, an alternative way of obtaining planning permission for housing-led development, first introduced in 2017.

Concerns were raised by Mr Hargraves, in respect of the proposed extension of this, to cover major development.

Mr Hargraves described this as a ‘simple ‘sidestepping’ of the current outline planning application route in favour of a simpler and less onerous permission in principle route’.

He added that there would be less time for members of the public to comment.

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In terms of assessing housing need, a new method was introduced by the Government in 2018, with the aim of having a common approach in place among local authorities to reduce the amount of debate at examination and speed up plan-making.

In the council documents, Mr Hargraves said that ‘the principle of a common approach to establishing the housing need is sensible and should, in theory save time and money’.

Concluding, Mr Hargraves said that the proposed changes to the planning system ‘have some merit, but raise a number of concerns’.

The cabinet meeting will take place between 2-4pm today.