The Planning Act 2008 received Royal Assent on 26 November 2008. This Act reforms the planning application process in England and Wales, with impacts upon development consent regimes, including those for major energy, water, transport and waste development, as well as the Town and Country planning system. This article provides an overview of the key provisions.
1. Nationally Signification Developments
1.1 The majority of the new Act relates to Nationally Significant Developments. The new provisions alter the procedure for deciding an application for development consent for a nationally significant development. Under the current regime, such applications are considered by a public inquiry following which the Inspector makes recommendations to the appropriate Government Minister. The Minister considers these recommendations and makes a decision on whether to grant consent, taking account of current Government policy.
1.2 The Act establishes the Infrastructure Planning Commission – a new independent body that is to hold responsibility for the examination of applications relating to nationally significant infrastructure projects. Where there is a National Policy Statement in place, the Commission will also be responsible for deciding such applications. A National Policy Statement (NPS), created by the Act, is a statement drafted by the Government, that is to have national application. The Act aims to create NPSs for individual infrastructure types, to supercede the existing multiple-statutory regimes. It is hoped that this new system will make the application procedure more straightforward. Eleven NPSs are anticipated:
- gas and downstream oil infrastructure;
- nuclear power;
- national metworks (strategic highway and rail networks);
- water supply and waste water treatment;
- Hazardous waste (not nuclear);
- Over arching energy;
- Fossil fuels;
- Renewable energy;
- Electricity networks;
Where there is no NPS to provide for a particular type of infrastructure, the Secretary of State will decide the application with recommendations from the Commission.
1.3 The examination and determination of an application is to be subject to statutory timetables that are designed to allow a more streamlined decision-making process.
1.4 Pre-application consultation is introduced by the new system. Developers will be required to consult local communities and other key stakeholders before the submission of an application.
1.5 The Act places greater emphasis on the use of written submissions. Examination of an application is to take the form of written representations except where it is considered necessary by the examining authority to hear oral evidence or any interested party requests a hearing. The Government considers that this procedure will allow greater public participation. Decisions will be made by either a single commissioner or two or more commissioners together. In certain circumstances the Secretary of State will be able to intervene and make a decision.
2. Amendments to the Town and Country planning regimes
2.1 Only 25% of the Act deals with reforms to the current planning system. The majority of these reforms are aimed at streamlining the process.
2.2 More flexibility is given to local planning authorities in drafting new development plans. Supplementary documents in local development schemes will no longer require to be listed, and can be produced by local planning authorities without the approval of the Secretary of State. This will not impact upon their status as local development documents.
2.3 A duty is placed on local planning authorities to include policies "designed to ensure that the development and use of land in the local planning authority's area contribute to the mitigation of, and adaptation to climate change." Further, the Act provides that when exercising any functions in relation to a development plan with the objective of contributing to the achievement of sustainable development, a person or body must aim to achieve good design.
2.4 A local planning authority will have the power to amend any planning permission relating to land within their local authority area if they are satisfied that the proposed change is not material. This will include the power to impose new conditions and to remove or alter existing conditions. Such an amendment can only be made however on an application by or on behalf of a person with an interest in the land to which the planning permission relates.
2.5 Finally, fees to cover the costs of an appeal are to be introduced.
2.6 One notable exclusion from the Act is a clause providing for schemes of delegation, as introduced in Scotland by the Planning etc. (Scotland) Act 2006.
3. Community Infrastructure Levy
3.1 A Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) is introduced by the Act to generate investment for infrastructure required due to new developments within a community. Regulations will be put in place to grant a local Council the option of applying a levy on all new local developments to finance infrastructure that is necessary due to the proposed development and to ensure developers mitigate the impact of their development on the community. A designated charging authority, within each local authority, will set a standard charge that it will levy on new developments, based on the increase in the value of land attributable to planning permission.
3.2 The CIL aims to ensure that the quality of life in a neighbourhood is maintained by the provision of services as a community grows, including public transport, provision for pedestrians and cyclists, health centres, schools, parks and flood defences to protect from the impacts of climate change.
3.3 Currently the planning system provides for planning obligations to mitigate the impact of new developments. This is done on a discretionary basis and in reality local authorities generally require planning obligations only in consents for larger developments. The situation requires to be made more predictable. S.106 Agreements will compliment use of the CIL.
Timescales for implementation of the Act have yet to be outlined. While it remains to be seen the extent of implementation and its impact on the planning system in England and Wales, it is hoped that changes will create a more open, user-friendly and efficient planning system for developers and planning authorities alike.