UK: Planning Green Paper: Delivering a Fundamental Change

Last Updated: 20 January 2002
The long-awaited Green Paper was published in December. Four “daughter” papers covering compulsory purchase orders, planning fees, planning obligations and major infrastructure projects have also been produced. The overall aim of the Green Paper is to create a planning system that makes fair and transparent decisions and which considers the views of the community within a sensible timeframe, thereby tackling the current issues of complexity; lack of speed and predictability; community engagement; customer focus; and enforcement. The changes can be summarised in five key areas:

Development Plans

The intention is for the plan-led system to continue but with the abolition of Structure Plans, Local Plans and Unitary Plans and their replacement by Local Development Frameworks (LDFs). These will contain:

  • A statement of core policies setting out the local authority’s vision and strategy for its whole area;
  • Detailed action plans for smaller local areas of change; and
  • A map showing action plan areas and other existing designations such as conservation areas.
It is envisaged that LDFs will be prepared over a period of months rather than years and that statements of core policies will be published annually.

Guidance and Policy

  • Regional Planning Guidance will be replaced with Regional Spatial Strategies (RSSs) which will have statutory status, be more focused and be integrated with other regional strategies.
  • Planning Policy and Guidance will concentrate on important policy issues that need to be resolved at national level. As such, all PPGs and MPGs will be reviewed, making clear the distinction between national policy which should be followed and advice which can be interpreted more flexibly.
  • Clear policy statements are to be produced on the development of major infrastructure projects.
  • A new White Paper will set out in detail the Government’s proposals for regional government.
Changes to Development Control – The Application Process
  • Local Authorities will be encouraged to provide single application points for multiple consents needed for development – a standardised form will be produced encompassing applications for planning, listed building and conservation area consents.
  • The number of statutory consultees will be reduced and a timetable imposed within which they must respond to the Local Authority.
  • User-friendly checklists for planning applications will be produced and pre-application consultation will be encouraged between both applicants and the community and applicants and the Local Authority.
  • Local Authority fees will be reviewed to ensure they cover the costs of services provided. The Local Authority will be able to charge for pre-application advice.
  • Local Authorities will have the power to disallow repeat applications unless there has been a material change in circumstance and also power to prevent twin-tracking.
  • Discussions of planning applications and Local Planning Committee meetings will always be held in public.
  • For large scale developments a delivery contract will be entered into between the applicant and the Local Authority setting out agreed timetables for delivery of a decision, with the ability for the applicant to refer the application to the Planning Inspectorate for a fast track decision in the event of default by the Local Planning Authority.
  • Outline planning consents may be replaced with a certificate to be agreed between the applicant and the Local Authority which permits the applicant, within a defined period, to work up a detailed scheme against agreed parameters. The subsequent application would be for detailed consent and the existence of and compliance with a certificate would weigh heavily in the final outcome of the application.
  • The life of a planning permission will be reduced from 5 to 3 years.
Appeals and Call-Ins

  • Local Authorities will be obliged to give reasons for approving applications as well as for objecting to them and the Secretary of State will have to give reasons for not calling-in applications.
  • There will be a target of halving the time from the close of a planning inquiry to the issue of a decision, with possible statutory targets for delivering decisions. Mediation will be encouraged to narrow down areas of disagreement in large planning cases which are going to public inquiry.
  • The time for lodging an appeal will be reduced from 6 to 3 months.
  • Third party rights of appeal have clearly been dismissed. 


The current enforcement procedures will be reviewed. Consideration is being given to punitive charges for retrospective applications and whether a deliberate breach of planning regulations should constitute an offence immediately pursuable through the Courts. Mediation will be encouraged where there is scope for a negotiated solution. 


Responses to the Green Paper must be submitted by 18th March 2002. Clearly, the intention is to promote greater efficiency in the planning system and attempts to reduce delay and cost must be welcome. However, changing from the Development Plan system to Local Development Frameworks and Regional Spatial Strategies may be difficult to implement and will depend, to a large extent, on Local Authorities being able to update Policy continuously.

Whether the significant changes set out in the paper can be translated into legislation and guidance within a reasonable period and acted upon thereafter remains to be seen. Resourcing, which is often the problem today, may remain a problem. However, Lord Falconer has made it clear in discussions with various professional bodies, that these proposals will be developed and adopted and that the Government’s intention is to make time for any primary or secondary legislation needed for such changes. We will wait and see.

"© Herbert Smith 2002

The content of this article does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied on as such. Specific advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

For more information on this or other Herbert Smith publications, please email us."

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