Changes To The Planning System
Changes To The Planning System
Ron Tate (Town Planner) gives expert video advice on: Will local communities have more of a say in the development of major infrastructures?; How will householder applications be affected? and more...
What is the planning white paper and how will it affect planning?
In the middle of May this year 2007, the government issued a white paper on planning matters setting out changes that they think they might bring forward in the way of further planning legislation. The purpose of the white paper is to actually invite comment from the planning industry and some of the ideas that are in the white paper have already been trailed before in previous press statements and ministerial statements so it comes as no surprise to those of us involved in planning that one of the things they're proposing to change is the whole regime of dealing with major infrastructure projects. These are things like ports, power stations, airports, motorways. They're suggesting that there would be national planning statements for each of these policy areas and that would guide major proposals that come forward and then they are determined by an independent planning commission. The whole idea they have is to speed up things significantly from the experiences of the past. That's at one end of the spectrum. At the other end, they're looking at the large number of planning applications that are related to householder changes. And they believe they can shrink that workload by something like 25%; about 55 million pounds worth of local authority planning resource each year just by altering the boundaries of what are permitted development and also allowing householders to respond to climate change. To have simple ways in which they can put small winter blinds, or solar panels or energy conservation measures into their property. So that's the breadth of what's in the white paper.
Will local communities have more of a say in the development of major infrastructures?
In the White Paper, as far as major infrastructure projects are concerned, the government wants to engage the community at each stage in the process. So, when they formulate the national policy statements, they hope to have public engagement then. Then, when the proposals for each piece of infrastructure are formulated into a planning application, they'll do that at that stage. And finally, when it comes in front of the Infrastructure Planning Commission, they are the body that will determine the applications, there will be an opportunity to embrace public opinion. What they won't do is engage in the dialog that took place on previously committed projects, where the general public were busy challenging the evidence at every stage and giving evidence and cross-examination. They want these projects to be on a much tighter time frame, possibly as little as a year from beginning to end.
How will householder applications be affected?
As far as the white paper views on the householder applications, the reduction that they are looking to achieve is about 25% of the current level of householder applications. They are concerned that when responding to climate change, the general public should have an opportunity purposing wind turbines or solar panels or other energy conservation measures without necessarily having to go through the process of a planning application. At the same time they are looking at permitted development rights and saying, why are we calculating this on the basis of the volume of building that's taking place? Why don't we set out some criteria that are about the neighborliness of the proposals to their surroundings, and using that as a basis for deciding whether permitted development rights could be granted to the proposals? They're hoping this will reduce by about 55 million pounds a year, the resources that local planning authorities have to use to deal with this. The idea is to free the scarce planning resources to deal with the much higher order, more important matters because at the moment the country is desperately short of planners.
How will the appeal system be affected?
As far as the planning appeals process is concerned, the White Paper is making these changes on major infrastructure, so they won't be part of the burden on the Planning Inspectorate. If the application falls to be determined by this Infrastructure Planning Commission, then it's out with the normal planning process, so that may have some impact on the resources that are available at the Planning Inspectorate.
How will the local development framework be affected?
In the white paper, the government have looked at how the local development framework system is bedding in since the Act of 2004, and there is a concern that there are too many consultation steps in the process. And one of the things they're proposing is to remove what is called a "preferred options" stage, so they wouldn't consult again at that stage. So you'd go right from the early stages of consultation up to the options without having too many circles in the process. And, again, this is designed to save time in getting to where the local development framework can be adopted.
Will it change the planning system for the better?
One leading question in any proposed change to planning legislation is "will it make things better?" We've had a planning system now since 1947 particularly, which has stood the test of time. It's been changed over time and this is yet a further change. So this isn't sweeping away the previous planning system. It's building on the strengths of that planning system. So, for example, the government has made a commitment to the greenbelt strategies staying in place - they don't see the need to overhaul that. So different parts of the planning industry will respond to it in different ways. They've all got their different agendas, and some will like what they see and some will be skeptical, and it will be some time after new legislation's been brought in before you can really start to make judgments as to has it improved things or not. And some would argue it's coming too soon after the 2004 legislation, which itself hasn't had an opportunity to bed in. But already the white paper is thinking of making changes, particularly in the area of consultation around the local development framework, to try and speed up that part of the process. He's trying to strike a balance between sensible decision making, evaluating all of the planning issues and providing the time to do that, and getting on and making the decisions that are necessary in the nation's interest to move forward. So planning no longer is an obstacle to be overcome. It's a way of facilitating the development process. People need to realize the vast majority of development proposals that come forward in planning applications are actually approved. It's there to help development, not to stop it.