Never in the field of town and country planning was so little known by so many about matters so important.
As the summer draws to a close, politics comes back into the news and we are all turning our thoughts to what the autumn season has in store, it is probably a good time for a stock take on where on earth we are in terms of planning – and to understand that July and August are not necessarily the best months to be away or at least to be “offline”!
As readers will recall, the Government revoked RSS (or RS to be precise), on 6 July 2010. Although the intention to revoke was very well trailed, this did not lessen the real shock which was felt through the planning and development industry as we began to wonder what the consequences of this action would be. Abolition of RS will form part of the Decentralisation and Localism Bill to be introduced in the new term but, in order to deliver quickly on a high profile pre-election promise, all existing regional strategies were revoked using executive powers under the Local Democracy Economic Development and Construction Act 2009.
But that was not quite the end of that particular story. Following strong lobbying from a number of quarters, there are now to be two Commons select committee inquiries relevant to these issues. The first is an inquiry into the abolition of RS, for which evidence is being requested by 15 September and the second is into localism where evidence is due by 1 October.
In addition, Cala Homes have begun a judicial review into the Government’s action claiming that the revocation of RS was unlawful in the absence of primary legislation and without the back-up of transitional provisions. Certainly there seems little doubt that the revocation has given rise to uncertainty on a grand scale, so the sooner this legal action is concluded the better.
Not satisfied with revoking RS and amending PPS3, (to bring an end to garden grabbing and removing the national density target), ministers have signalled the intention to take forward the pre-election promise of rewarding local authorities for granting planning permission. Grant Shapps announced in early August that, through the “New Homes Bonus those communities that go for growth reap the benefits of development, not just the costs”. However, we will need to wait until the autumn spending review to know more about these “powerful incentives”.
And it doesn’t stop there. The Community Right to Build initiative was launched at the end of July, Mr Pickles joined forces with Mr Cable to announce they were open to suggestions about Local Enterprise Partnerships (note that the Government may want to scrap current acronymical opportunities but they clearly will be bringing more forward for us!) and even the concept of “predetermination” seems to be on the way out as part if the much wider than I first appreciated “world of localism”. We still await definite word on the proposals for third party appeals and community infrastructure levy but word on the street is that the former may be quietly dropped or postponed and the latter will stay but may be rebranded with a few changes.
To help us understand better how all of this hangs together, early July also saw the publication of a draft structural reform plan so we can all see how much change is still ahead of us. As has been said before “a rest is as good as a change” for planners – but it is change which is ahead of us!