This is entry number 256, published on 30 June 2011, of a blog on the Planning Act 2008 infrastructure planning and authorisation regime. Click here for a link to the whole blog.

Today’s entry reports on further government changes to the Planning Act via the Localism Bill.

The Localism Bill is wending its way through Parliament, today being the fourth day (of eight so far planned) of its House of Lords Committee Stage.  After three days the committee had reached clause 42 (the start of the provisions on local referendums) out of 215.

The government has now tabled three amendments that relate to the Planning Act infrastructure planning and authorisation regime.  The full current list of amendments can be found here.

Before going onto those, the government amendments on local referendums would make the holding of them discretionary in many cases, and this could prevent interference with planning decisions in particular.

Amendment 128E, likely to be considered today, would insert a new clause that makes the holding of certain referendums at the discretion (on a vote) of the local authority.  These are those that would (a) cost more than 5% of a year's council tax receipts to hold, (b) similar to ones held in the previous four years or (c) (most importantly) where there is an existing consultation, appeal or review procedure for the matter in question.

The last provision could take planning decisions out of the scope of referendums, but on the other hand could act as a kind of 'third party right of appeal' of planning approval, since there is currently no appeal from that, albeit referendums are not binding.

Now, the infrastructure planning amendments.  The first is a Wales-specific amendment that applies to the new ability of the government to fold further consents into the regime.  Devolved consents are removed from this power.

The second amendment relaxes the sections of the Planning Act where the IPC decides whether to accept an application for examination.  Instead of having to comply strictly with the requirements for the form and content of an application, applications need only be of a standard the the government considers satisfactory.

This will come as a great relief to project promoters, who are becoming increasingly paranoid that applications might be thrown out because a few is were undotted or ts uncrossed.  It is of course the government that will consider applications (or part of the Planning Inspectorate on its behalf) once the IPC has been abolished on the likely date of 1 April 2012, which is why it is given the role to consider whether applications are satisfactory.

The third amendment, which I can claim some credit for, shortens the time that applications take if any part of their consideration finishes early. At the moment, there is a six-month examination period, a three-month recommendation period and a three-month decision period.

If, say, the examination only takes four months, the current wording of the Planning Act would effectively extend the recommendation period to five months, rather than keeping it at three months.  This amendment would start the recommendation period and the decision-making period when the previous stage actually finishes, if it finishes early.

Although these amendments are welcome, like Oliver Twist, I and others have been asking for more.  Lord Jenkin will be arguing on the relevant committee day (likely to be 7 July) that the following further amendments should be made:

  • the Planning Act need not introduce a statutory process for judicially reviewing National Policy Statements
  • the Localism Bill should state on its face that when the IPC is abolished, 'live' applications will continue uninterrupted  
  • there should be an explicit statement that development consent orders can be modified by the successor to the iPC  
  • 'requirements' should be treated like planning conditions for the purposes of appeals etc.  
  • applicants should be able to apply to waive compliance with procedures which are unnecessary, impossible or impractical when applied to their applications  
  • the government should be able to amend the list of offences that can be included in development consent orders  
  • separate consent processes for special types of land should be able to be included in a development consent order, and  
  • there should be no need to have to go to other bodies to ask to include various consents in a development consent order  

We will see how these amendments get on next week.  There are further opportunities to attempt amendments at the Report Stage, and, unlike in the Commons, at Third Reading, so more bites at the cherry are possible.