Monday, 25 June 2012
More non-planning issues
I have complained before of issues being dragged into planning decisions which go beyond what could reasonably be regarded as material considerations in the planning context. Unfortunately, no-one seems to have mounted any legal challenge to this trend yet, but a developer who is prepared to make a stand on the issue might sooner or later be prepared to have a crack at a local planning authority that is guilty of this sort of thing.
Just to take one example that has come to my attention, I recently heard of “Enplanner”, which I understand is a new tool developed in Bristol to help planning applicants meet on-site renewable energy policies. Developers, architects, agents and consultants were invited to a workshop last week to learn how it can help them meet the on-site renewable energy requirements which are now to be part of every planning application.
I understand that “Enplanner” is intended to make it easy for applicants to show, by creating an energy statement, that they have met local policy requirements. This involves demonstrating that they have included sustainable energy measures such as biomass, solar or combined heat and power in their developments.
I am told that “Enplanner” has been developed in conjunction with the Carbon Trust for use by all local authorities who have adopted on-site renewable energy policies. This goes beyond mere guidance. It involves a requirement to submit energy statements, which applicants are expected to complete on-line.
Even if you believe that saving the planet is an important policy objective, the appropriate vehicle for doing so is the Building Regulations. Until comparatively recently, a firm dividing line was maintained between the proper confines of town and country planning on the one hand, which is concerned with issues of land use and design, and on the other hand the technical requirements associated with the actual construction of buildings, including sound construction methods and materials, adequate natural lighting and ventilation, and more recently, thermal insulation standards and energy performance. These considerations are the proper concern of the Building Regulations.
What the requirement for energy statements in conjunction with planning applications and the adoption of on-site renewable energy policies is doing is to blur the distinction between the planning system and the Building Regulations regime. “Enplanner” may be a useful tool in connection with meeting Building Regulations requirements for energy efficiency, but it has no place in the planning system.
Bristol City Council seems mighty proud of its role in developing “Enplanner” as a planning tool, and boasts that every person building or extending property on however large or small scale will be playing their part in applying this policy. They claim that most developers welcome the opportunity to address climate change in their proposals. But what the planners fail to appreciate is that demanding this sort of information up-front at the planning application stage (and it is only one of a number of similar impositions that are being piled onto an already over-complicated and unduly bureaucratic planning system) is an insupportable burden on developers and their professional advisers at this comparatively early stage in the development process. It involves massive additional expenditure when the final design of the development has probably not been determined and when everyone can well do without this unnecessary complication.
Having established the principle of development and the overall design through the planning process, the proper time for working up the technical details, including any proper and reasonable requirements for sustainable energy measures such as biomass, solar or combined heat and power or whatever, is at the Building Regulations stage.
The government says that it is trying to cut down on red tape and wants to simplify compliance regimes across government. The sooner they put a stop to this sort of nonsense in the planning system, the better it will be for everyone.
© MARTIN H GOODALL