This is entry number 79, first published on 4 January 2010, of a blog on the implementation of the Planning Act 2008. Click here for a link to the whole blog.

Today’s entry gives the low-down on the much higher number of local authorities that must be involved in an application under the Planning Act 2008 and why promoters should take care not to miss any.

The Act gives several roles to local authorities, both in the process of developing national policy statements and then considering applications for nationally significant infrastructure projects. Some of these roles apply just to the authorities in which proposed development is situated, but some apply to a much wider class of authorities. See this earlier entry for full details of all the new roles for local authorities.

The dramatic increase in the number of local authorities may not yet be fully appreciated. Where under existing regimes, the single local planning authority (i.e. the district, borough or city council, or a unitary authority) was the sole authority involved in an application for a major infrastructure project, there could now be up to 39 authorities involved, with a greater number of roles.

This is because some of the responsibilities on local authorities are given not only to those in whose areas a proposed project is situated, but also any other authority that shares a boundary with them. So if a project is to be in a two-tier area (i.e. where there are county and district level authorities), all the county and district authorities bordering the county council area as well as the district council area are included. I gave an example in a previous blog entry of a proposed (fictional) project in Ribble Valley in Lancashire. In that case no fewer than 29 authorities would be involved (I said 28 in the earlier post, but I’d missed out the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority). That is one of the higher totals, but by my calculations an average of 17 authorities must be consulted on every project.

I say ‘by my calculations’ because I have produced a table of all 350 or so authorities in England and Wales, setting out the wider set of authorities for each one. That turned out to be no mean task and involves over 6000 references to local authorities. The joint lowest are the Isles of Scilly, the Isle of Wight and Anglesey, with no neighbours. Whether you count those on the mainland depends on where you draw the authorities’ borders, although I would advise consulting them even if not strictly required. Indeed, the IPC itself has chosen to consult authorities across water when preparing its EIA scoping reports (more on this soon). The joint highest are Winchester and East Hampshire, which for a project in part of either of those authorities that is in the just-designated South Downs National Park, have a whopping 38 neighbours each, as far apart as Dorset and East Sussex. On the other hand, the prize for the most popular consultee goes to Wealden in East Sussex, which will get consulted on projects in 38 local authority arieas.

If an authority is missed by a promoter, then this risks the jilted authority submitting an 'adequacy of consultation' report to the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) and (whether or not this is done) the IPC throwing out the application for inadequate consultation. Failure to adhere to the procedural terms of the Planning Act will count just as much - if not more - than failure to hold enough events or demonstrably take consultation responses into account.

If you are struggling to work out who the neighbouring authorities are for a particular project or for land identified in an NPS, (i.e. for the purposes of sections 8, 43 or 102 of the Act,) then drop me a line and I will tell you for free which authorities you should contact. If you want the whole list then you will have to instruct me as your legal adviser – there are limits to my generosity!

One last thing. The way the neighbouring authorities are defined – in terms of sharing borders – introduces an unexpected anomaly in the system. Councils, often city councils, that are wholly inside and therefore do not share a boundary with the county council, might get left out even when a project is to be in that county. If a project is in a district not adjacent to the city, then the city does not share a border with either the district or the county and so need not be consulted. By my calculations this applies to Cambridge, Cheltenham, Chesterfield, Gedling, Lincoln, Northampton, Norwich, Oxford, Preston, Stevenage, Watford, Woking and Worcester.