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01/11/2013

Why old maxims should matter for all ministers

Words:

It’s been a funny time for planning and it’s not often that key legislation is dropped. 

In Northern Ireland, highly controversial proposals to relax planning regulations in designated zones and to restrict judicial reviews of planning decisions to EU or human rights law were scrapped. 
 
Planning minister Mark H Durkhan took the brave decision to profoundly annoy colleagues in his government by withdrawing the bill, citing legal reasons.
 
Those legal reasons are the campaigners, interest groups and lawyers who would have been queuing up around the block to give the legislation a good kicking. The proposals clearly opened the door to challenges that they be declared unlawful and the minister made a wise move to head off such trouble at the pass. Presumably all energy will now be directed towards the full Northern Ireland reforms in planning legislation in 2015. 
 
But there is a message for ministers wherever they are: here be demons.
 
Justice secretary Chris Grayling should take note next time he makes ill-informed comments on how a tide of hopeless judicial reviews of planning and infrastructure decisions are holding back development.
 

"The implications of planning decisions can reverberate for decades"

 
The vast bulk of judicial reviews are for immigration and asylum cases. Once again, planning is a convenient football to be kicked for something it has nothing to do with.
 
In Scotland, controversy rages over a proposal to introduce a penalty clause for poor performing planning authorities although it is still unclear how that will be judged. It’s the old nutshell of whether to reward improvement or punish failure. Of course, there should be sanctions for disastrous mis-management, incompetence or wrongdoing but that is at the extreme. 
 
Whatever performance measures ministers settle on, they should be reminded of an old maxim. You can bang on about efficiency until the cows come home but surely the point is to make people or organisations effective and that means focusing on outcomes.
 
The implications of planning decisions can reverberate for decades and outlast the lives never mind the tenures of the average minister. And this raises another old maxim. If you’re not heading in the right direction, every step is to the wrong place faster.

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