This is entry number 101, first published on 19 February 2010, of a blog on the implementation of the Planning Act 2008. Click here for a link to the whole blog.
Today's entry looks at the latest on local impact reports.
The local impact report is the one document that the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) must take into account when it makes a decision on an application made to it for a nationally significant infrastructure project. It is produced by a local authority and is the authority's statement of the impact of the project on its area. I say 'the one document', but really that should be one class of documents, for it is the wider set of local authorities that can each send the IPC a local impact report, so as readers of previous blog entries such as this one will know, this could mean the IPC being inundated with up to 39 local impact reports for a single application - even more if the application crosses local authority boundaries.
What will a local impact report look like? It's not clear, since the government, having previously said it would issue guidance on local impact reports while the Planning Bill was going through Parliament (see this page of Hansard - the exchange at 3.30 p.m.), it has now decided it won't give any guidance after all, in this written answer to a question by Paul Truswell MP.
Step forward the IPC, who as the answer indicates, will shortly be filling this breach with its own guidance on local impact reports (LIRs). Watch this space - or the IPC website - for news of that being issued.
There is going to be a slight tension about when the LIR should be sent to the IPC, and it is up to the IPC to set the deadline for any particular application. Local authorities will want as long as possible to prepare them, and the IPC will want as long as possible to consider them, and to allow others to comment on them, all in the context of a short and fixed timetable. The government has given some advice on that point, at least, in its guidance on examination of applications. It recommends that the IPC sets a deadline for the submission of LIRs of six weeks after the 'preliminary meeting' (the new term for pre-inquiry meeting) that the IPC must hold when it kicks off examination of an application. That really doesn't give a local authority much time from the date it is told that an application has been accepted by the IPC. It should probably be thinking about it from the moment the promoter starts its pre-application consultation, or if it is one of the host authorities, consults it on the statement of community consultation.
Another interesting question is the neutrality of LIRs. As they will not be deciding applications, local authorities are free from the shackles of quasi-judicial neutrality and can align themselves firmly for or against a project. Will their enthusiasm, or distaste, infect the LIR? It is hard to imagine that it won't.
So who will issue the first LIR? The most likely candidate is Ashford Borough Council in Kent, as the first project on the IPC's timetable is in its area. So far, no sign of anything on its website, though.