This is entry number 273, published on 7 September 2011, of a blog on the Planning Act 2008 infrastructure planning and authorisation regime. Click here for a link to the whole blog.

Today’s entry reports on changes to development consent application criteria.

The Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) has been issuing standards, guidance and advice surrounding the Planning Act regime.  The different names for these three things are significant, and decide the extent to which they must be followed. Standards are compulsory, guidance is not compulsory but reasons must be given for departing from it, and advice is, well, advisory.

The IPC issued two guidance notes a while ago, the second of which, relating to preparation of application documents, also contained standards.  I commented at the time that it was not altogether clear what parts of the note were guidance and what parts were standards, and that you couldn't tell from the title that it contained standards.  So far it has issued twelve advice notes, although note 8 is divided into five sub-notes.

This week the IPC has issued a thirteenth advice note, on drafting the development consent order and the explanatory memorandum.  Perhaps more significantly, it has replaced the two guidance notes with a single redrafted guidance note and an amended guidance note 6.

The significance of the change is that there are no longer any standards contained in the remaining guidance note - in other words there are no longer any compulsory requirements for the formatting of application documents.  This move is to be welcomed and will come as a relief to prospective applicants because it means that an application is less likely to be thrown out for formatting reasons.  Strictly speaking, until this week, if you forgot to put page numbers on one of your documents, the IPC would be entitled to refuse to accept the application.  Now you will probably get away with it, but that is not to say that documents should not be of a high standard.

I asked Ian Gambles, Director of Operations at the IPC and soon to become Director of Infrastructure at the merged IPC/Planning Inspectorate, at a joint TCPA/BDB conference yesterday whether this was a deliberate move to make applications easier for project promoters.  He denied that the intention was to make them 'easier' but agreed that the requirements were now 'less rigid'.

There are provisions to relax this further in the Localism Bill, where instead of absolute compliance with the requirements for applications, they must merely be of a satisfactory standard.  This is likely to come into force in April 2012, but in the meantime, the removal of compulsory standards is a welcome development.