UK: Planning Act 2008 - Changes Afoot

Last Updated: 9 March 2012
Article by Angus Walker

Today's entry reports on a forthcoming series of small scale reviews (and one large scale review) of aspects of the Planning Act regime.

The Planning Act 2008 received royal assent in November 2008. It slowly came into force over the next year but the main dates were

  • 1 October 2009 for the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) first being able to give advice on forthcoming applications,
  • 1 March 2010 when applications for energy and transport projects above the nationally significant infrastructure project (NSIP) thresholds had to be made to the IPC
  • 6 April 2011 when waste water applications were similarly 'switched on', and
  • 1 October 2011 when hazardous waste applications were switched on.

The final types of NSIP relating to water supply are expected to be switched on in April this year.

Although the regime is not changing significantly over the next couple of years, there are a series of small scale changes coming up that it is worth knowing about.

March - April 2012: Localism Act changes

15 sections of the Localism Act 2011 make changes to the Planning Act regime. A couple of provision (order and direction-making) have been brought into force already, but the main changes are expected to come into force on 1 April 2012.

The main change is of course the abolition of the IPC and the assignment of the its examination functions to the Planning Inspectorate (PINS) and its decision-making functions to the government. Incidentally I am told we should refer to 'the Planning Inspectorate' rather than any directorate of it, just as for all the other functions of PINS.

There are other smaller changes that have been reported extensively on the blog, e.g. here.

Changes to regulations will have to be made to replace references to the IPC and these have yet to be published, but will be a mere mechanical exercise. They will probably be published a couple of weeks before changeover day (aka April Fools' Day).

March - July 2012: 'light touch review'

Later this month the government is starting a 'light touch review' of the regime. This will be a chance to make minor improvements mainly to guidance but there is also the possibility of a further amending statutory instrument. The National Infrastructure Planning Association (NIPA) has been making representations to the government on what this should involve.

Although there will be no consultation exercise as such, the government will publish its proposals in advance of bringing them into force and no doubt unsolicited feedback will occur.

During 2012: review of non-planning consents

At the time of the November 2011 autumn statement, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) announced a review of non-planning consents covering four issues, to:

  • scrap unnecessary development consents and simplify others;
  • reform the remits and working practices of the public bodies granting or advising on development consents;
  • set a clear timescale for deciding development consent applications; and
  • make it easier to apply for development consents.

The announcement of the details of the review can be found here. This contains no fewer than 29 measures that the government will progress over the next year. And that does not include the review of controls relating to the Habitats Regulations that has already been consulted on. This is supposed to be concluded by the budget on 21 March, so we may see an announcement on that day.

(Expected) Autumn 2012: 'red tape challenge' of planning regulations

Meanwhile, the Cabinet Office is conducting a general review of secondary legislation, sector by sector. The format of the review is to have a consultation period where every piece of secondary legislation is listed and consultees are asked if it should be revoked. I'm not sure how behind the challenge the 'client' departments are - the recent review of maritime and rail regulations is headed 'These regulations relate to the maritime and rail sectors, operating to ensure they run safely and effectively'. Er, OK, so why are you getting rid of them, then?

The challenge is expected to reach the sphere of planning this autumn. Although outside the conventional planning system, the regulations under the Planning Act are likely to be included and this will be a further opportunity to change them, or at least slim them down. The red tape challenge website can be found here

Late 2013 or early 2014 onwards: heavy touch review

Finally, when the Localism Act was a mere Bill, an impact assessment was produced dealing with the infrastructure planning changes. This referred to a review of the effectiveness of the changes in the Bill in April 2014. The government has recently confirmed that it will be conducting a more far-reaching review of the Planning Act regime around that time.

By then there should be plenty of evidence about which parts of the regime are working and which are not, so there should be enough to review. Having said that, I would hope that if something was obviously not working, it would not need to wait until this more comprehensive review to be fixed.

So although the Planning Act regime is to remain relatively stable from April 2012 until April 2014, it will not remain completely static.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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