This is entry number 14 of a blog on the implementation of the Planning Act 2008. Click here for a link to the whole blog.

Today, we look at the current Lib Dem line, and a slight tweak of the Conservative line. The Lib Dems are concerned that the Act will allow the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) to push through new projects with little or no consultation. Here is their view from a January 2009 publication (although the reference to ‘the terrible floods this summer’ suggests it is somewhat older). As mentioned before, although there are concerns about a ‘democratic deficit’ with the unelected IPC, the Act will prevent proposals being pushed through with ‘little or no public consultation’. They also get the scope of the Act wrong by suggesting that supermarkets are included. Nevertheless here is their line:

“Our main area of concern [in the Planning Act 2008] remains the new Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) which we opposed from the outset. To the British people it is the elected government or their local council who make planning decisions about major projects such as airports and power station. But now a quango will make these decisions. The government hopes it will speed up decision making. We remain sceptical that it will and remain especially concerned that it will not refuse permission and that local people will not be sufficiently consulted.

We continue to share the concerns of organisations such as Friends of the Earth and the CPRE that major national infrastructure projects could be pushed through with little or no public consultation. There's a real risk the IPC will lead to bulldoze local opinion in a bogus quest for faster decisions. All the indications suggest the changes will help Labour's friends in the nuclear and supermarket industries, rather than giving local people a genuine say in planning.

The Act should have given local communities the powers they need to tackle climate change and mitigate the changes we've already seen, such as the terrible floods this summer. There needs to be more assistance for communities in developing local policies, and we would like to have seen community enquiries incorporated into the planning process. The planning system needs more, not less, leverage for local communities. Despite winning a concession to improve the process of cross examination of planning proposals we remain deeply concerned that the processes put in place by the Act are untested and probably unworkable.”

Susan Kramer, Lib Dem MP for Richmond Park has tabled a private member's Bill in Parliament to require Parliamentary approval of airport expansions as policy in an NPS as well as individual applications, as reported on this blog. My inept attempt to link that entry to this blog caused some annoyance - my subsequent apology has been accepted!

Meanwhile, the Planning Portal reports that Charles Hendry MP has provided further information about the Tories’ line on the Planning Act. They would subsume the IPC within the Planning Inspectorate as part a ‘large projects team’, which would make recommendations to ministers rather than making decisions. Ministers would have a time limit to reach a decision (unstated, but Bob Neill MP had previously been receptive to a three-month limit). Also, National Policy Statements (NPSs) would be subject to a vote in Parliament. According to the Tories, these measures would reduce the likelihood to legal challenges to decisions.

Not much new there (see 24 July blog entry), but these changes are stated to require primary legislation (so not a quick fix), and further details and more clarification of transitional provisions are promised later in the year.

Charles Hendry has also told one of my colleagues, John Qualtrough, that the Conservatives will not dismantle the part of the regime that requires development consent orders. The (nearly) one-stop shop and major plank of the regime from a legal point of view is therefore here to stay.