Duran Duran are touring, Girls Aloud are covering Tiffany songs from 1987 and Jason Donovan is back on our screens in a soap opera. We seem to be in the middle of an 80s revival and the new draft PPS on Economic Development suggests that the Government is joining in. The draft PPS4 reintroduces concepts that have not been part of the planning system since Mrs Thatcher was Prime Minister.

The first sign of a change in government thinking came with the issue of the Barker Review of the planning system in December 2006. One of the key recommendations was that policy on economic development should be updated "with a more explicit role for market and price signals". The Planning White Paper agreed that "planning policy and procedures could better deliver economic growth and prosperity", and promised new policy demonstrating the Government's commitment to "a strong, stable and productive economy".

The draft PPS translates these aims into policy statements, stating that all development proposals "should be considered favourably unless there is good reason to believe that the economic, social and/or environmental costs of development are likely to outweigh the benefits." While not quite an explicit return to the presumption in favour of development in place that operated in the 1980s, it does encourage the grant of planning permission in the absence of demonstrable harm and signals a change in emphasis that will be welcomed by developers.

The following elements of the draft PPS also indicate a new, more positive attitude to development:

  • Four of the five "key policy outcomes" set out in the PPS are driven by growth rather than preservation. Even the definition of sustainable development includes the need to ensure economic wellbeing;
  • Local authorities are specifically told to plan to encourage economic growth, to take account of market information in the plan-making process, to be flexible in designating uses and to ensure that plans can respond to economic change;
  • It recommends that a positive and constructive approach should be taken to new development (including the reuse of listed/heritage buildings), and that economic evidence of benefits, including job creation or improved productivity, be taken into account;
  • It also proposes that the current parking standards in PPG13 are replaced by others that are "locally specific" - stricter in some areas but more relaxed in others.

In addition, there are two policy developments which could emerge later this year, both of which indicate that the economic aspects of development are going to become more significant:

  • The draft PPS 4 promises a separate consultation on a new duty for upper tier local authorities to carry out an economic assessment of the local economy, creating "the evidence base needed to underpin regional strategies and core strategies";
  • The Planning White Paper proposes that there will be "a closer alignment of Regional Economic Strategies with Regional Spatial Strategies".

Draft PPS4 is on consultation until 17 March 2008 and comments should be sent to: Alison Davis, Communities and Local Government, Planning Economic and Social Policy Division, Zone 1/J3 Eland House, Bressenden Place, London SW1E 5DU. Although they have received little attention, the proposals potentially represent a far greater shift in favour of developers - and development - than any other planning reform of the last 25 years. The changes will become of particular use to schemes being held up by local planning authorities and can be expected to be a cornerstone of many planning appeals