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WHY WE ARE STILL JUST TINKERING WITH THE PLANNING SYSTEM - BY MIKE LAMBERT

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04/09/2014

 

The Government’s consultation on a number of changes to the planning system is welcome recognition from them that there is still a problem with planning.

Why we are still just tinkering with the planning system - by Mike Lambert

A number of these suggestions will be an improvement even though they often unpick changes introduced over the last 10 to 15 years – no doubt also trailed as improvements at the time!

Reducing the thresholds for Environmental Impact Assessments has got to be sensible.  Given the way our planning system works those residential sites that won’t be covered by EIA going forward, won’t be subject to any less scrutiny. The main issues of transport impact and ecology will still need to be addressed.

We also welcome the rationalisation of statutory consultees but the agencies need to be better resourced, particularly at County Council level, where delays can add 6 months to the process on large sites at present.

Deemed discharge of pre-commencement conditions would have been a good idea if it were straightforward.  However, the suggested process means that if the developer does not have a decision in 6 weeks they have to serve the local planning authority with a notice and then wait another 2 weeks while the Council gets another chance to issue its decision.  So this consultation is suggesting that we go through further bureaucratic processes to get to the end result.  There are also a proposed number of exemptions, which will involve most large developments, making the exercise of limited benefit in the efforts to speed up delivery.

Taking a step back from the 98 page technical consultation one has to ask whether the consultation goes far enough in improving the planning process?  It would seem to be simply substituting one set of regulations with another, the net effect of which is just introducing more bureaucracy and process? It would appear to be 98 pages of new process that we don’t believe will change very much, if anything at all.

None of the suggested changes in this consultation can improve the culture, capacity or resource of local planning authorities, which ultimately determines how well the planning system operates.  Positive planning requires leadership at political and senior management levels.  All too often planning is seen as a disconnected quasi-judicial process remote from the main business of a Council Cabinet or its main committees.

Successive changes in planning legislation and regulation over the last 30 years have all failed to achieve Governments’ objective of ‘improving’ or ‘speeding up’ the planning system..  Michael Heseltine started it all with Circular 22/80, claiming in 1980 that “jobs are locked in planners’ filing cabinets”.  Today we are still tinkering with the planning system in an effort to find out why it does not work effectively.  In the end it all comes back to the key issue of local leadership, resourcing and capacity.

Whilst the principle of self-determination within localism is good, planning is too complex to be broken up between 300+ local planning authorities with inadequate resources to carry out the Government’s drive for positive planning. Any planning system is only ever as good as the people and organisations charged with operating it for the benefit of all.

Mike Lambert

Planning Director


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