UK: Government Launches Light Touch Review Of Planning Act Regime

Last Updated: 24 April 2012
Article by Angus Walker

Today's entry reports on a review of guidance on the Planning Act regime.

On Friday the government launched the awaited minor review of the Planning Act regime - a major one will take place in early 2014.  This so-called 'light touch review' is in fact only a review of guidance - the lightest of touches.  The guidance has been rewritten in the light of experience and prompted by the change from the Infrastructure Planning Commission to the Planning Inspectorate. 

The existing set of seven guidance documents has been condensed to six, redrafted and issued for comment.  I was wondering if there would be any proposed changes to secondary legislation, but apparently not, but there are one or two useful nuggets in the new draft guidance.  The six new drafts with links are as follows:

The main consultation document can be found here.  Responses to the consultation should be received by 6 July and sent to the email address mip-lighttouchreview@communities.gsi.gov.uk.
 
Guidance on pre-application consultation
 
The main changes are to the first of these documents and reflect that this is the area where there is the most practice to call upon.
 
Perhaps reflecting the 'bonfire of the quangos', the guidance now includes what to do when statutory consultees cease to exist (para 20).  There is more on offshore developments (44-48) and on how much consultation is enough (54).  The latter says that a full re-consultation does not always need to be undertaken and that a more limited consultation is possible.  How to keep consultees informed after the end of the consultation is covered (61-64).  On adequacy of consultation it (still) doesn't say how local authorities will know that an application has been made - e.g. whether the Planning Inspectorate will always let them know (65).

The document says that applicants will be unlikely to be able to share draft ESs with consultees (71), and that the preliminary environmental information is not a draft ES (72).  There is new text on a matter of concern to promoters, namely how to accommodate unknown future technology or occupiers' requirements (77-78).  Finally, there is a new paragraph on including alternatives within applications (79), reflecting advice given to National Grid and reported here last week.

Guidance on Associated Development

This says that development that is only there to pay for the main nationally significant infrastructure project (NSIP) should not be associated development (AD) (page 2 footnote 1), and that AD will be accepted even if it has a higher specification than the NSIP needs (to accommodate other developments for which applications are expected within 5 years) (6(iv)).  Retail or business space can be included as AD if it is of a typical amount for that sort of NSIP (9).  On dwellings, the Innovia case is mentioned to clarify that temporary accommodation can be included (10). It is up to the promoter to include development as AD or apply for it separately (11).  For the purposes of Environmental Impact Assessment, AD should be included in screening or scoping opinion requests (16).  The annex with examples of AD is expanded.

Other guidance

The other four guidance notes have changed less.  In the examination procedure guidance, there is a lot on additional people other than those who originally made representations.  The note still recommends that the PM is held no more than six weeks after the end of the representation period, although in practice this target has yet to be achieved for any live project.  The Bob Neill letter about changing a DCO post-submission is echoed in the guidance, with a reference to Wheatcroft principles (107-108).  The examination of individual projects may need to deal with this rather than a general procedure being introduced.

In the compulsory purchase procedure guidance, even less has changed.  There are small differences in dealing with certificate applications under the Planning Act (16).

The already short fees guidance is even shorter than it was before, given that the 'worked examples' have been removed. Apparently they will be reinstated when there is more actual practice to rely upon

The application form guidance is even more similar to the previous version, with some removals: the applicant is no longer encouraged to complete the form electronically, or to say why the DCO differs from the model provisions.

Questions

The consultation questions are mainly 'is the guidance clear' and 'does it cover everything it should'.  The only questions not of that form are Q1: is it appropriate to merge the LA guidance with the pre-application guidance, Q10: do you agree that the worked examples of likely fees should be removed from the Fees Guidance until more evidence of actual costs becomes available, and Q15: do you have any other comments.

Twelve weeks will no doubt be ample for NIPA and others to scrutinise the new drafts in more detail and make suggestions for further topics to be covered.

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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