UK: Planning Act Regime Given Cautious Approval At Conference

Last Updated: 23 January 2013
Article by Angus Walker

Today's entry reports on a conference on the Planning Act regime where it received a qualified endorsement.

Yesterday a Waterfront conference entitled 'a practical guide to making successful applications for nationally significant infrastructure projects' was held at our offices with the Planning Act great and good (and me) giving their views on the regime to date.  Everyone had something useful to say, and I provide some examples below.

Robbie Owen of this parish set the scene by saying that the regime was beginning to work but needed more experience and further changes to be truly effective.  He mentioned the on-going dispute with the Planning Inspectorate (PINS) over the calculation of examination fees.

Ian Gambles, director of the National Infrastructure Directorate at PINS, revealed details of the proposed 'Consents Service Unit' being set up in line with the government's proposals under the 'one stop shop' consultation.  This unit would help applicants coordinate and negotiate the separate consents that will still be required.  I urge PINS to adopt a more pronounceable set of initials such as the Consents Liaison Unit.

Richard de Cani of Transport for London set out the policy drivers for the proposed Silvertown Tunnel in east London, which will provide additional river-crossing capacity and relieve the congested Blackwall Tunnel.  In fact, it is the first major highway project in London since the Blackwall Tunnel, and is the first to take advantage of the 'upgrade' provision in the Planning Act.

Kirsten Berry of ERM described environmental impact assessment as part of the Planning Act regime.  She noted that 'preliminary environmental information' was a new concept for people to get to grips with that was not in other regimes.  She said that a screening or scoping opinion request was often the first time that a project entered the public domain and that this should be borne in mind in terms of project description and branding.

Julie Foley of the Environment Agency (EA) said that it was a risk for promoters to leave environmental permitting until after they obtained their main consent, since design changes might be required that by then would not be possible.  In response to a challenge from Robbie Owen, she said that the EA did not always refuse to allow their consents to be included in a main application, and indeed had recently agreed to do so for the forthcoming Thames Tideway Tunnel application (expected at the end of this month).

Leonora Rozee, former deputy chief executive at PINS, emphasised that engagement with the community should not be a hurdle but actually produced a better application and reduced later opposition.

David Baker of Baker Rose said that compensation for land acquisition was never truly equivalent to the loss, and that  public officials often went all the way to the Lands Chamber because they did not have the courage to settle in case they were accused of paying over the odds.  He and Leonora both endorsed mediation as a good low-cost way of reducing discord.

John Rhodes of Quod Planning emphasised the importance of team working in preparing a coherent application, based on his experience on Hinkley Point C, and the importance of engagement with local authorities and local communities since the relationship would continue long after the application had been decided (positively, presumably).

Harry Phillpot of Francis Taylor Building analysed why the Maesgwyn Power Line and Daventry International Rail Freight Terminal applications had not been accepted for consideration.   He said that the first fell well short of acceptability and there was not much to learn from it; and the second had been much more marginal and the reasons for rejection were not so clear cut.  He concluded that applications should be as clear as possible about what they were seeking permission for.

Tim Norwood of EDF Energy and Andy Langley of Costain described their experiences of seeing an application through to the end of examination - Hinkley Point C and the Heysham to M6 Link Road respectively.  In both cases they said that you shouldn't expect to go on holiday during the six-month examination.  Decisions on each are due within a day of each other in March.

Doug Bamsey of Sedgemoor District Council described the application process from a local authority perspective, again based on Hinkley Point C experience.  He said that it was much better for local authorities to participate on applications, despite the views of some local people that doing so amounted to endorsement of the project. His council and two others had secured an eight-figure planning performance agreement (PPA) from EDF to deal with the application.

I described the suite of documents that formed an application with some points to note in relation to each one.  There was some disagreement as to what the most important application document was, but of course the right answer is the Development Consent Order.

Keith Mitchell of Peter Brett Associates chaired the day, and summed up the seven 'cs' that the speakers had given importance to: consultation, compliance, construction, consistency, clarity, common ground and collaboration.

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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Angus Walker
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