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Planning for the Future: Plan in haste, repent at leisure

A curate’s egg, says Nigel Hewitson, and many will have seen a good number of the ‘radical' ideas touted in Planning for the Future before...

We were promised "radical reform". So does the much-anticipated Planning for the Future white paper deliver on that promise? Well, like the curate's egg, it is good in parts. It contains some interesting new ideas but at the same time it recycles some old ones.

Probably the biggest innovation is the proposal to split areas into three ‘zones’: ‘Growth’ areas where permission in principle will be granted on identification of a development site in the local plan; ‘Renewal’ areas which will be subject to a statutory ‘presumption in favour of development’ and ‘Protection’ areas where development will be discouraged.

“Many of you will have spotted that not all these ideas are new”

Many of you will have spotted that not all these ideas are new. Permission in principle is a concept already on the statute books (albeit that the provisions are not yet fully in force). Older practitioners will remember previous presumptions in favour of development (Lifting the Burden, anyone?).  There are already areas where development is discouraged – eg, the green belt, AONBs, development affecting the setting of heritage assets, etc. As a number of commentators have pointed out, much of this could have been achieved within the existing system.

So, how would this all work? Well, as so often, the devil will be in the detail.

The identification of the three zones, the white paper tells us, will fall to local planning authorities as part of a completely new local plan process which will be more democratic and involve greater opportunity for public participation. A total of 30 months will be allowed for this process.

I am not the first to point out that speed of process and increased public participation are often uncomfortable bedfellows. The fact that, under the current plan system instigated in 2004, we still do not have full up-to-date plan coverage hardly inspires confidence that the 30 month timescale can be met.

“I am not the first to point out that speed of process and increased public participation are often uncomfortable bedfellows”

As for the granting of planning permission, even where permission in principle has been granted by the zoning of the site in the local plan, consideration will still need to be given to all the material considerations we consider now – residential amenity, environmental impact, etc. A glance at any committee report on a major application will put this in context. ‘Principle of the development’ (which is all permission in principle decides) is typically only one of a dozen or more main issues that need to be considered. 

Plus ca change…    

Nigel Hewitson is a planning lawyer with Gowling WLG

Photo l iStock


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