The White Paper contains policy initiatives directed towards changes to the planning system whilst acknowledging the broader environmental challenges. It is introduced by four Secretaries of State (Communities and Local Government, Environment Food and Rural Affairs, Trade and Industry, Transport) as a wide-ranging package of reforms intended to be in place by 2009. Some of the proposals will require changes in primary legislation, others seek to streamline and improve existing mechanisms and there is a general endorsement of pipeline environmental policy.

The consultation period closes on 17th August 2007. Major infrastructure projects

The most radical proposal is a complete change in the development consent procedure for major infrastructure projects. At present there are multiple regimes for different projects and the proposal is to have one comprehensive system separate from the planning regime. The new procedure would involve three stages.

(1) The identification by Government of strategic objectives to be delivered in National Policy Statements.

(2) The development of specific proposals, subject to consultation, within the strategic framework.

(3) Decisions on applications to be made by an independent commission of specialists.

There are obvious advantages in reducing the parallel regimes and providing a clear strategic development context. Opportunities for effective consultation at the national policy stage and even more so at the individual project stage will test the community engagement of the proposals. Projects (exceeding statutory thresholds) which will be affected include, but are not limited to, freight terminals, ports and harbours, railway infrastructure, power stations (greater than 50 megawatts onshore and 100 megawatts offshore), gas projects both above and below ground, commercial pipelines of more than 10 miles, dams holding back more than 10 million cubic metres of water, waste water treatment plants for more than 150,000 population and energy from waste installations (more than 50 megawatts).

Promoters of proposals would have to consult with statutory consulters prior to submitting an application and the consulted would have to respond within an upper time limit.

Changes to the planning system

The mantra of streamlining and simplifying the system, which is a feature of most planning policy initiatives, is represented in this White Paper by a range of proposals including:

¦ Reducing the need for planning permission for some minor development to include householder energy generation (micro-generation) and minor extensions, and to extend permitted development for industrial/ commercial development on the basis of impact

¦ Reviewing the General Permitted Development Order and Article 4 Directions, unifying Listed Building and Scheduled Monument Consent, changing the rules relating to Tree Preservation Orders, standardising planning application forms, reducing the number of call-ins by the Secretary of State, changes to the appeals procedure compressing timescales for householder development and extending officers delegated powers regarding minor development

¦ Changes to the development plan process to include reducing the time taken to produce adopted plans.

There are also proposals to increase planning fees,remove the £50,000 fee cap and introduce a new fee for confirmation of planning condition compliance.

Sustainable development

The broader environmental objectives in the White Paper dovetail with PPS 1 Delivering Sustainable Development, the draft PPS on Climate Change and the Code for Sustainable Homes. A new draft PPS, Planning for Economic Development, to be published in summer 2007 (final version spring 2008) will take this further as planning is seen as a mechanism for supporting the move towards renewable and low carbon forms of energy. In this White Paper, as well as the minor changes extending PD rights for domestic micro-generation, there is a commitment to work with industry to set in place a timetable to deliver substantial reductions in carbon emissions from new commercial buildings within 10 years.

Town centres

There are proposals to review the current approach of assessing the impact of proposals outside town centres which is based on a “need“ test, replacing it with a new test with a strong focus on a town centre first policy. Detailed proposals for consultation will be published in summer 2007. If you would like to know more about the White Paper and its implications for your business or if you would like assistance in drafting a response to the consultation, please do not hesitate to contact one of our planning law specialists.