This is entry number 280, published on 29 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 compares the coalition agreement with what has happened so far in the planning sphere.

Back in May 2010, the coalition agreement was drawn up between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, setting out their programme for government.  Are they doing what they said they would do?  Here are the planning-related claims and what has happened to date.

We will rapidly abolish Regional Spatial Strategies and return decision-making powers on housing and planning to local councils, including giving councils new powers to stop ‘garden grabbing’.

An attempt to abolish Regional Spatial Strategies rapidly via a letter from the government chief planner failed, as it was found to be unlawful in the courts.  It is now being done more slowly through the Localism Bill, expected to be enacted towards the end of this year and to come into force in April 2012.  Planning Policy Statement 3 was amended to stop garden grabbing in July 2010 via this letter.

In the longer term, we will radically reform the planning system to give neighbourhoods far more ability to determine the shape of the places in which their inhabitants live, based on the principles set out in the Conservative Party publication Open Source Planning.

The concept of neighbourhood planning is indeed being introduced via the Localism Bill.  However, the intial idea in Open Source Planning isn't quite being adopted: "we will create a new system of collaborative planning by giving local people the power to engage in genuine local planning through collaborative democracy – designing a local plan from the “bottom up”, starting with the aspirations of neighbourhoods" - neighbourhood plans must not conflict with the strategic elements of the local authority plan above it, so not fully bottom up.

We will abolish the unelected Infrastructure Planning Commission and replace it with an efficient and democratically accountable system that provides a fast-track process for major infrastructure projects.

The IPC is indeed to be 'abolished' via the Localism Bill.  The new system is not really a replacement, though, it involves keeping the same fast-track process for major infrastructure projects and adding an extra three months to the end for the government to take decisions.

We will publish and present to Parliament a simple and consolidated national planning framework covering all forms of development and setting out national economic, environmental and social priorities.

A draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) has indeed been published for consultation, although there is a great deal of controversy over whether it favours economic priorities over the other two, among other things.  A revised NPPF will be published some time after the consultation period ends on 17 October, and Parliament may well have a debate on it.

We will maintain the Green Belt, Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and other environmental protections, and create a new designation – similar to SSSIs – to protect green areas of particular importance to local communities.

The NPPF does introduce the idea of 'Local Green Spaces' at paragraph 130.  The existing protections are maintained in principle, but critics of the NPPF say that green belt protection is effectively being weakened.  Community Right to Build Orders override it, for one.

Liberal Democrats have long opposed any new nuclear construction. Conservatives, by contrast, are committed to allowing the replacement of existing nuclear power stations provided that they are subject to the normal planning process for major projects (under a new National Planning Statement), and also provided that they receive no public subsidy.

We will implement a process allowing the Liberal Democrats to maintain their opposition to nuclear power while permitting the Government to bring forward the National Planning Statement for ratification by Parliament so that new nuclear construction becomes possible. This process will involve:

  • the Government completing the drafting of a national planning statement and putting it before Parliament;
  • specific agreement that a Liberal Democrat spokesperson will speak against the Planning Statement, but that Liberal Democrat MPs will abstain; and
  • clarity that this will not be regarded as an issue of confidence.

Never mind that they have given the wrong name to the Nuclear Power National Policy Statement.  The government did put it before Parliament.  I have checked and all Liberal Democrat MPs abstained, except that Mike Hancock managed to vote for and against it, and Bob Russell voted for it.  With only 14 votes against, the stability of the government was never in doubt.

We will create a presumption in favour of sustainable development in the planning system.

This concept is indeed created in the NPPF, although arguably it is not properly applied to the different situations where planning applications are decided.

We will seek to ensure a level playing field between small and large retailers by enabling councils to take competition issues into account when drawing up their local plans to shape the direction and type of new retail development.

There is no sign of this one, as far as I can work out, and it is a tricky issue.  It may have been filed in the 'too difficult' box.

So, nearly full marks for trying - 16 months in, every measure but one has at least been embarked upon.  I also don't think that they have done anything major that wasn't highlighted in the coalition agreement. Execution is always more difficult and the detail has involved watering down some of the concepts.  In another seven months' time, it will be interesting to see if all the proposals have been implemented, as that is the target for both the Localism Bill and the NPPF.