Changes that won't happen

First, Phil Wilson, Labour MP for Sedgefield in County Durham (and thus Tony Blair's successor) introduced a bill to exempt on-shore windfarms from the Planning Act regime.  In fact he is opposed to a particular windfarm proposed for his constituency - E.On's The Isles Windfarm - but his bill would return all on-shore windfarms to local authority decision-making, regardless of size and location.  His speech can be found in this Hansard report starting at column 319.

You won't find this bill on the Parliament website yet, and I will say with some confidence that it won't reach the statute book.  It is down to have a second reading on 1 March 2013, but in practice there won't be time for it on that day.

Secondly, Nigel Mills, Conservative MP for Amber Valley in Derbyshire, has tabled an amendment to clause 23 of the Growth and Infrastructure Bill - the one that brings business and commercial projects into the Planning Act regime.  In a rare slip by the table office this has been described as an amendment to the non-existent clause 35 (probably because it amends section 35 of the Planning Act).  His amendment is to exclude open-cast mining and solar farms from the scope of business and commercial projects.

Ironically this echoes the Labour line when the clause was debated at committee stage (as previously reported).  As it is not a government amendment, it won't be made to the bill, with the government no doubt saying that it will compromise the consultation on business and commercial categories that is currently running.

Changes that will happen

Finally, Eric Pickles MP, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, has tabled 33 more amendments to the Growth and Infrastructure Bill for consideration at the Report Stage and Third Reading debate on Monday 17 December.

The amendments can be found here (including Nigel Mills' one). Most of them are to change the description of employees who get shares in exchange for rights from 'employee owners' to 'employee shareholders', and some are to the ability to vary Electricity Act consents, but the first one makes a fairly significant change to the Planning Act.

It adds a new section to the Act to allow projects that received some sort of consent before 1 March 2010 to have that consent varied or replaced instead of needing a new consent under the Planning Act.

This will take some projects out of the Planning Act regime where they have an existing consent that isn't quite what they need now, but if there was another consent that they need but didn't have at all they will probably still need to use the Planning Act.  There is a slight question mark over what constitutes a variation or replacement permission - if I have permission for a house can I 'replace' it with one for an onshore windfarm and avoid the Planning Act?  Presumably not.  As time goes by this amendment will gradually have less significance given that it only applies to consents issued before March 2010.

Although this amendment deals with pre-Planning Act consents, I actually think that once a few developments have been given consent under the Planning Act, the ability to vary these will become a future battleground.  If a change to a development consent is a material one, then it must undergo a process almost as extensive as a new application.  There will be a category of changes that are material but nevertheless do not go to the heart of the original consent - do they deserve going through the whole process again? I suspect that this will eventually get amended but as with the Rookery South special parliamentary procedure experience, only once a project or two has got bogged down as a result of it first.