In October last year an Independent Practitioners Group led by Lord Taylor of Goss Moor was tasked with reviewing the existing Government Planning Practice guidance supporting the implementation of national planning policy. In December the Group published a Report of its findings and recommendations. As had been widely expected, the Report was highly critical of the existing system and stated that it was ‘no longer fit for purpose’. The Report set out a series of recommendations, the most important of which are as follows:
- Government Planning Practice guidance should be “clear, up-to-date, coherent and easily accessible. It must provide essential information, not unnecessarily repeat statutes and regulation”. It should also exclude best practice exemplar type information, though it should signpost organisations providing best practice guidance (but without endorsing specific documents).
- The guidance should be a “web-based, live resource, hosted on a single site as a coherent up-to-date guidance suite” which should be “actively managed to keep it current”.
- PINS guidance should be incorporated into the new resource and PINS should be involved as a formal advisor on the maintenance of the new resource.
- The present guidance is unfit for purpose and cannot simply be decanted into the new web-based format. A process of cancellation, revision and editing is required as a matter of priority and the great majority of the work should be completed by July 2013.
- The Government should commence a consultation on the Report as quickly as possible and aim to complete the immediate cancellations, and work in progress on the preparation of the website and the most urgent updating of guidance by 28 March 2013.
- 103 existing guidance documents should be cancelled as soon as practicable (aiming for 28 March 2013) and a further 28 should be withdrawn, but with relevant material being incorporated into revised guidance. 106 existing guidance documents should be kept in their entirety until replaced by revised guidance. New guidance on 8 policy areas should be produced.
- The greatest priority is establishing the new website and then creating a single coherent suite of guidance within it. Priority topics for specific guidance include the duty to cooperate, viability, SHMAs and SHLAAs, climate change and renewable energy, flooding, Environmental Impact Assessment, Sustainability Appraisal, biodiversity, and prematurity and propriety.
The Government welcomed the overall recommendations in the Report and opened a consultation on 21 December 2012 which ended on 15 February 2013. Although the result of the consultation cannot be prejudged, it seems likely that the system of Government Planning Practice guidance will be subject to a radical overhaul in the near future.
The Planning Act 2008: Guidance on the pre-application process
Another recent and important development in planning guidance has been the publication on 10 January 2013 of new guidance on the pre-application process under the major infrastructure planning regime (“the PAP Guidance”). The original guidance on this regime had become out-ofdate as a result of the major infrastructure provisions of the Localism Act 2011. The PAP Guidance is the first of an anticipated six guidance documents replacing the whole of the original guidance. It is a new document, though it consolidates two of the original documents (the Guidance for Local Authorities and the Guidance on Pre-Application Consultation). Its scope is expanded beyond the original guidance to include such issues as Environmental Impact Assessment, Habitats Regulations Assessment, consultation on offshore developments and the Rochdale envelope approach.
Perhaps the most striking feature of the PAP Guidance is its treatment of alternatives. At consultation stage, it was proposed that alternative options should only be included in applications for development consent orders in ‘exceptional cases’. As a result of consideration of National Grid power line schemes during the consultation on the guidance, this exceptionality criterion was removed and paragraph 83 of the PAP Guidance makes clear that inclusion of alternatives is permissible in a wide range of circumstances.
Another key feature of the PAP Guidance is its treatment of the circumstances in which re-consultation is required. As paragraph 55 makes clear, applicants are not expected to repeat consultation rounds set out in their statement of community consultation unless their project proposals have changed ‘very substantially’. Where this test is not met, affected statutory consultees and local communities should be informed of changes, but full re-consultation is not required.
The PAP Guidance provides much useful detail on the convoluted procedures and requirements of the preapplication process. It is aimed primarily at applicants but is intended to and should serve as a reference point for all users of the regime.