Communities secretary Ruth Kelly has announced a series of major reforms to the planning system in England.
These measures, set out in a White Paper, are designed to:
fast-track major infrastructure projects
simplify the regime for local householder applications
speed up appeals
streamline the new local plan procedures
improve the handling of major planning applications
reduce the number of schemes “called in” by the Secretary of State
strengthen policy on climate change
change planning fees
clarify national policy guidance
introduce a new test to protect town centres
At the same time as announcing these proposals the Government has pledged to make no fundamental change to planning policy on green belt.
Some of these proposals will need legislation and further consultation. Ministers expect the changes to be completed by the summer of 2009.
These proposals are wide-ranging and will build on reforms advocated by Kate Barker and Ron Eddington in earlier Government-commissioned reports.
Ministers have decided to amend the statement of general principles for the planning system to align it more clearly with Planning Policy Statement 1 which will emphasize that planning authorities must pay full regard to the economic as well as the environmental and social benefits of sustainable new development.
There will be a new PPS on economic development which will make it clear that applications should be considered favourably “unless there is good reason to believe that the economic, social and/or environmental costs of development are likely to outweigh the benefits”.
Communities and Local Government will undertake a major review of both the current set of planning policy statements (PPSs) and guidance which should streamline the existing suite of documents and separate policy from guidance.
In the case of town centre and retail policy ministers will review the current approach in PPS 6. This will mean the replacement of the current need and impact tests. The new test will have “a strong focus on our town centre first policy” and will “promote competition and improve consumer choice”. The new policy backdrop will also address competition considerations taking account of the current inquiry by the Competition Commission into the groceries market.
Ministers have also made it clear that they want planning authorities and the planning regime to support “place shaping” rather than the former emphasis on development control.
One consequence of this change of direction is a proposal from ministers for a new “duty to involve” the community at the same time as the removal of the requirement for an independent examination of the separate planning Statements of Community involvement.
At the same time Communities and Local Government is planning to introduce changes to the new-look local plan regime “to ensure a more effective and tailored process of plan preparation with more flexibility about the number and type of plans and how they are produced”.
Ministers have promised to consult on the proposed changes to the regulations and policy affecting development plan documents in the autumn. The Government is concerned that at present local authorities in England are proposing to produce over 1,500 separate development plan documents.
The department has signalled that that favours legislation which would enable the High Court to order that a plan is sent back to an earlier stage of its process rather than back to the start. This proposal would also apply to Regional Spatial Strategies, the White Paper has made clear.
The document also favours the use of Planning Performance Agreements – up front agreements between a developer and a local planning authority which set out all the information required and a timetable for delivering that decision. A consultation exercise on the use of PPAs is now under way.
As expected, ministers have used the White Paper to propose a range of measures designed to offer greater freedom and flexibility for householders wishing to make minor extensions or improvements to their home. These proposals are partly based on the work of the Householder Development Consents Review (HDCR) and involve plans for the introduction of an impact approach to development rights for householder development.
Ministers have stressed that the changes represent a “rebalancing” of the General Permitted Development Order regulations. The changes encompass relaxations in areas where harmless householder developments currently require planning permission; and tightening up where harmful developments currently proceed.
Communities and Local Government expects that the changes could result in a 25 per cent saving in the number of householder applications nationally.
Also now out for consultation are proposals for changes to planning fees, partly designed to compensate for the ending of the Planning Delivery Grant (PDG) arrangements.
The package of changes includes the removal of the fee cap, currently set at £50,000; an increase in the householder fees to reflect inflation since 2005; an additional fee where confirmatory letters are involved; and an enhanced fee structure for a guaranteed premium service by the LPA. In the longer term the Government is considering allowing LPAs to set their own fees.
Moves to speed up and change the appeals process are central to the Government’s planning package. Ministers want a significant shortening of timetables and are also proposing that minor appeals should be determined within each local authority by a board of councillors, to be known as a Local Member Review Body.
As part of this new approach each LPA would have to establish a scheme of delegation to enable their planning officers to determine outright certain planning applications for minor development (e.g. householder developments, new shop fronts, small changes of use).
Under this new regime applicants refused permission could request a review of the officer’s determination but there would be no longer a right of appeal to the secretary of state. However, anyone aggrieved by the local review body could go to the High Court.
The Government has suggested that in future the Planning Inspectorate should determine the most appropriate appeal method. In addition the White Paper sets out a wide package of proposals to tighten up appeals procedures and arrangements.
The White Paper has highlighted the need to increase skills levels among planners and councillors. The Government is planning to extend the geographic coverage of the Advisory Team for Large Applications and is keen to see greater use of private sector partners and joint working to deliver planning services.
Ministers have announced that with over 2,000 planning and building control vacancies in England and Wales, the current bursary programme for postgraduate students will be continued. However, all recipients will be required to work in the public sector for two years in the first five years of employment after qualifying.
The Government has also made it plain that it wants to develop e-planning. During 2007-08 Communities and Local Government is planning a new e-consultation hub which will “facilitate much more rapid and efficient exchange of planning applications and responses between LPAs and consultees”.Planning Portal 25.5.07