Friday, 14 May 2010

Priorities for Ministers

No doubt we all have our own ideas about how the planning system could be improved, and I set out some ideas a few weeks ago in the form a speech by the fictional Jim Hacker [see the April archive – “Real Planning Reform”].

I am sufficiently realistic to appreciate that many of those ideas will not appeal to the incoming administration, but there are a couple of issues which I feel would merit urgent consideration by ministers.

The first is the Development Plan system, which is now in complete chaos as a result of the ill-conceived changes brought about by the 2004 Act. Unfortunately, it will require fresh primary legislation to unscramble the mess, and DCLG will have to take their place in the queue for parliamentary time before they can introduce any further Bill.

What the Tory green paper was canvassing would make things worse rather than better, and at the very least there needs to be some fairly robust ministerial policy guidance imposed at regional level to ensure that housing land comes forward at a sufficient rate to meet the very real need for housing, especially in the southern part of the country. That need really must be met, and it will undoubtedly involve building on green fields.

There is also much to be said for having a county level policy document – whether you call it a County Development Plan or a County Structure Plan. Finally, at District level, we need something much simpler than the byzantine process involved in formulating the slowly emerging Local Development Frameworks. The current emphasis on process must be dropped, in order to focus on content. A streamlined procedure needs to be designed to fast-track the production of Local Plans and to keep them under review. There must clearly be an opportunity for public comment and objections to draft plans, but the tail must not be allowed to wag the dog as it does now.

Finally, repeal of Section 38(6) of the 2004 Act (originally Section 54A of the 1990 Act, inadvisedly inserted as a hasty amendment to the 1991 Bill as it was going through parliament) would relieve much of the pressure on the Development Plan process, which has slowed it down and made it such a long and weary dance. This would leave Section 70 of the 1990 Act on the statute book, which is a perfectly adequate basis for development control.

The other priority, which will not require primary legislation, is an urgent review of the validation of planning applications, including simplification of the information requirements (and ideally the scrapping or, at the very least, substantial simplification of the national and local checklists) coupled with an amendment of Article 20 of the GDPO to reverse the effect of the Newcastle judgment [see the post on 5th May below – “Validation dispute goes pear-shaped”]. Design and Access Statements should also be scrapped, except possibly for major applications.

No doubt many other items could be added to this wish-list, but the overhaul and acceleration of the Development Plan process and simplifying the requirements for submitting Planning Applications are the most urgent.



The following comment has been received from a reader :

The 2004 Planning Act frustrates building, and retards the construction industry. But why would reform help? The 1947 Town and Country Planning Act underpins the 2004 law, and will underpin any reform. Wouldn't it be better if farmers had their development rights back?

I am not sure I agree with this, and I would certainly not agree that we should return to a free-for-all for farmers, although there may be scope for revising Part 6 in the Second Schedule to the GPDO, as part of a more general tidying up of the GPDO. - MG

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