On 21 May 2007 the Government issued its proposals for further reform of the planning system in a White Paper: ‘Planning for a Sustainable Future’. These proposals come less than 3 years after the major reforms made in the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 and indeed propose some changes to that Act. The key proposals at a glance:

Consent for nationally significant infrastructure projects

Radical change is proposed. The government will produce national policy statements (NPSs) for key sectors and an infrastructure planning commission (IPC) will be established to determine applications by reference to the NPSs and other relevant considerations. In addition, some infrastructure applications currently determined at ministerial level will be determined by local authorities.

National Policy Statements (NPSs)

  • Produced by the Secretary of State with responsibility for the sector in question and will cover major airports and ports, improvements to the Strategic Road Network, major new power generating facilities, major reservoirs and waste plant works;
  • Each NPS will apply for a period of between 10 – 25 years depending on the sector covered and be reviewed every 5 years;
  • The relevant NPS will be the primary consideration in determining applications, i.e. be given more weight than any other statement whether national, regional or local;
  • Draft NPSs will be subject to Parliamentary scrutiny and may be challenged in the courts within 6 weeks of publication on grounds of illegality, procedural impropriety or irrationality.The exact form of these statements remain to be seen but we anticipate that they will broadly follow the form of the 2003 Airports White Paper.

The Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC)

Main features:

  • The IPC will decide applications for large projects in respect of the sectors subject to the NPSs;
  • There will be a single unified consent regime for projects falling within the remit of the IPC so that the IPC will have the power to grant necessary authorisations, avoiding the need for separate applications under the Transport and Works Act, Harbours Act, Town and Country Planning Act etc;
  • IPC commissioners will be appointed for their expertise in areas such as national and local government, community engagement, planning, law, engineering, economics, business, security, environment, heritage, health etc for up to 8 years;
  • The majority of evidence given to the IPC will be in writing but the IPC can ask direct questions and may allow cross-examination of witnesses;
  • There will be an ‘open floor’ stage in the proceedings if demanded, to give interested parties an opportunity to air their views about an application;
  • The decision of the IPC can be challenged in the courts within 6 weeks of publication on the grounds of illegality, procedural impropriety or irrationality.

As a result of the above changes, smaller infrastructure projects which are currently dealt with by the relevant Secretary of State may be determined by local authorities where they have a primarily local effect, subject to right of appeal and call-in procedures. In any event, some changes will need to be made to the way non-nationally significant projects are decided within the existing consent regime.

Climate Change

The PPS on climate change recently consulted upon will be finalised by the end of 2007;

  • An action plan to deliver substantial reductions in carbon emissions from new commercial buildings within the next 10 years;
  • The planning system will make it easier for householders to install microgeneration equipment in their homes.

Economic development

  • Local planning authorities will be required to pay full regard to the economic, as well as environmental and social benefits of sustainable development;
  • A new Planning Policy Statement on Economic Development will be finalised by spring 2008.T

Town Centres

  • Replacement of the ‘needs test’ (under which the economic need for a development must be shown) with a new test as yet unclear;
  • Competition considerations will also be addressed having regard to the conclusions of the expected report of the Competition Commission into the groceries market.

National policy framework

  • The production of clearer, more strategic and focused national policy framework with PPS1 at its heart. The aim is to separate policy from guidance and reduce the amount of central guidance to strategic issues.

Local Development Framework

  • The White Paper acknowledges that the new local development framework system required under the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 has ‘thrown up some problems’. It therefore proposes further reform including the removal of the need for statutory consultation at the ‘preferred options’ stage.

Improving local planning authority performance

Introduction of ‘Planning Performance Agreements’ for major applications (this follows a pilot scheme in 2006) which will exempt these applications from the 13 week target for determination. There is a separate consultation paper on these proposals.

Planning fees changes in England

There is a separate consultation paper on these proposals accompanying the White Paper:

  • Increasing planning fees to cover the actual costs incurred by local authorities in determining planning applications; removal of £50,000 cap, but householder fees to increase in line with inflation and possible future de-regulation of planning fees so that each local authority can charge its own fees;
  • Additional fee of £85 (£25 for householder permissions) for confirmation that conditions have been discharged;
  • Local authorities may be able to charge an enhanced fee where a ‘premium service’ is offered, e.g. a decision will be made in less than 13 weeks for a major application

Improvements in the planning process

There is a separate consultation paper on these proposals accompanying the White Paper:

  • Reduction in the number of planning applications for minor householder developments based on an ‘impact’ based approach and the extension of the impact based approach to other permitted development e.g. industrial or commercial buildings;
  • Removal of barriers to the use of Article 4 directions e.g. removal of requirements for Article 4 directions to be approved by the Secretary of State;
  • Views are sought on ‘neighbour agreements’ to allow some developments to proceed without planning permission where neighbours agree;
  • Simplification of the TCP (General Developments Procedure) Order 1995 relating to the submission and processing of planning applications;
  • Allowing local authorities to make minor amendments to schemes granted planning permission where the variation is not material;
  • A single set of rules to govern all tree preservation orders;
  • Reduction in the number of applications referred to and called in by the Secretary of State.

The appeal process

There is a separate consultation paper on these proposals accompanying the White Paper:

  • Householder appeals to be lodged within 8 weeks of decision and not 6 months;
  • The planning inspectorate to determine the appeal method and appeals decided by written representations to be subject to a compressed appeal timetable so that the appeal is determined within 8 weeks;
  • Local authority board of councillors, to be called ‘Local Member Review Body’ may decide minor planning appeals;

What happens next?

The White Paper is accompanied by 5 consultation papers and the period for all closes on the 17 August 2007.

The Government expects the proposals in the White Paper to be fully in place by 2009. However, the establishment of the IPC will require primary legislation which the government will introduce at ‘the earliest opportunity’ (likely to be in the November legislative programme).