The Queen's Speech yesterday confirmed the Government's intention to bring forward a Planning Reform Bill this session. Our contacts with Government indicate that the Bill will be published this month and will implement the proposals in the Planning White Paper. In summary those are to establish an Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) for infrastructure projects, introduce National Policy Statements and change the Local Development Framework system.
This Bill should be read alongside the Energy Bill and the Climate Change Bill as together they are the "pillars of the Government's strategy to secure long-term prosperity and quality of life for all".
What will this mean in practice? National Policy Statements (NPS) will set policy for matters such as energy generation, energy transmission, ports and airports. They will be subject to Parliamentary scrutiny and then will form Ministers' last involvement in their planning process. Thereafter, planning applications which are in conformity with the NPS will receive permission from the IPC unless there is a conflict with national or international law. It will immediately be seen that these proposals are flawed as few planning applications, even those which are refused, are illegal. Something more is meant. However, the power of the NPS will be considerable and it will be important for affected parties to participate in the process of drafting and approving them. It is likely that they will go through the Select Committee process so evidence will need to be submitted and in some cases it will be helpful to appear before the Committee to make one's point. We are ready to assist on this.
The IPC will be an inquisitorial body sifting large amounts of evidence. The potential for error is considerable which will itself give rise to applications for judicial review. Again, our planning law team is ready to assist promoters and objectors.
The Planning Reform Bill will, our discussions with Government suggest, also deal with the planning charge. The charge replaces the controversial proposals for planning gain supplement (PGS). Points to watch in practice are what infrastructure forms part of the charge, how the charge is allocated to development types and scope for reducing the charge through Section 106 agreements. The LDF will be the key document in all of this. The pitfalls of PGS are largely there in the planning charge, such as ensuring infrastructure is actually delivered and the problem of double-charging. Again we can assist.
The new LDF system is itself to be changed, less than three years after its introduction. More significant however is the experience of the Planning Inspectorate which is having to find many plans "unsound" and reject them altogether because neither they nor their objections have had adequate sustainability appraisal. This is an important issue for objectors. We have considerable experience of dealing with these problems for our clients.
Finally, the White Paper contained proposals for appeals against the refusal of planning permission to be heard in some cases by a group of members of the local planning authority. Inside wisdom was that this rather unlikely idea would be dropped; however Her Majesty's text announced it specifically.