This is entry number 188, first published on 18 November 2010, of a blog on the implementation of the Planning Act 2008. Click here for a link to the whole blog.
Today's entry reports on a seminar held yesterday that looked at lessons learnt from the Planning Act regime so far.
At the seminar, Sir Mike Pitt, chair of the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) defended the new regime as it came under scrutiny from two infrastructure planning experts. The seminar was hosted by RPS, planning and environmental consultants - the third they have held on the new regime.
Sir Mike said that the IPC's caseload was growing, although as a rule of thumb, each month that passed usually meant about two weeks' progress on promoters' timetables. He said that the IPC's policy of openness, where every email, conversation and meeting was summarised on the IPC website, gave stakeholders confidence in the system. He said that the new regime focused on consensus between the parties and was not intended to result in a simple win/lose decision.
He displayed a slide showing the Rookery South application documentation (the application that is furthest through the process and whose objection deadline is tomorrow) This consisted of about 14 lever-arch files, a roll of plans a few CDs and four or five spiral-bound documents (which can be yours for £3000), but he refuted allegations that anyone making representations would have to read all of it.
He stressed that project promoters needed 'extremely good legal and technical advice' and only applications that were 'top quality' were likely to make progress.
He referred to the forthcoming demise of the IPC in terms of it being a merger between the IPC and the Planning Inspectorate. He said that he hoped that the new regime would be the best of both worlds (the worlds being the Planning Act 2010 and the Localism Act 2011). Although ministers would make final decisions on applications, he expected that decisions that went against the recommendation of the IPC or its successor would be very rare.
Robbie Owen of Bircham Dyson Bell then gave a lawyer's perspective on the regime so far. He discussed the onerous pre-application consultation requirements and gave as an example the number of local authorities that must be consulted - up to 40, in some parts of the country. See this blog entry for more on the subject.
He then stressed the importance of the development consent order (DCO) that would give the promoter the powers to build and operate its project. He said that this should not be drafted just by lawyers at the last minute but should be a central part of the process with all disciplines contributing - and having the right lawyers was important too. He mentioned the IPC decision to reject the application for a power line in Wales, largely due to inadequacies in the DCO.
He commended the IPC's outreach programme to explain the system to people local to proposed projects, but contrasted this with the IPC's reluctance to give advice on application preparation to promoters.
Finally, looking forward to the Localism Bill (note that it is no longer to be the Decentralisation and Localism Bill, but is still getting called that), he urged the government to remove some of the checks they had put in the Planning Act to respond to the 'democratic deficit' of decisions being made by the unelected IPC, given that the government would be doing the decision-making. These were no longer necessary and their removal would mean the new regime being more of a one-stop shop as intended.
Finally, Richard Mayson of EDF spoke about experience of the regime in the case of EDF's proposed Hinkley Point C nuclear power station in Somerset. He said that he supported the Planning Act regime because it gave predictability to the process, but was worried that the Localism Bill might take some of this away.
EDF have entered into a 'planning performance agreement' with the local authorities in the area to assist with the burden placed on them in dealing with such a large project, but he urged the government to expand its idea of allowing local authorities to keep business rates for renewable energy projects set out in the Local Growth White Paper.
He said that the Hinkley Point pre-application consultation had been carried out in two stages and they were currently digesting the 800 written and other reponses made during the second stage. He said that more comments had been received on 'associated development' (i.e. things being built other than the nuclear power station itself) than the power station. In an ICM poll of local people, 63% were in favour of the project and 17% against. He said that despite there being 9000 pages of information at the second consultation stage, some had complained of insufficient information (and I would guess others complained of too much information). He said that the application would be made in the new year.
If you are interested in hearing Sir Mike and Robbie speak about the new regime (with the promoter's slot being taken by Hector Pearson of National Grid this time), the CBI is holding a conference on the subject on 9 December at Centre Point in London. For more details and how to apply to attend, see this flyer