UK: Four Years Of Blogging On The Planning Act 2008

Last Updated: 29 July 2013
Article by Angus Walker

Today's entry looks back on the last four years of blogging on the Planning Act 2008, and forwards.

Exactly four years ago on 17 July 2009, the first Planning Act 2008 blog entry was posted.  Since then, a quick calculation reveals that I have written nearly 370,000 words on the Planning Act regime.  That's more than the longest Harry Potter novel (which one?), but some way to go to beat War and Peace at about 562,000 words. It's only a matter of time before Leo is left for dust, though.

At the time of the first post there were no National Policy Statements, even in draft, no applications for nationally significant infrastructure projects had been made and the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) hadn't even been set up.  Just one piece of secondary legislation had come into force by then - the brief Infrastructure Planning (National Policy Statement Consultation) Regulations 2009.  For the first two or three months the blog was like an election night broadcast before any results had come in.

The regime

How things have changed.  The ninth NPS is about to be designated - actually that's not quite as much progress as would have been expected in 2009.  Applications have been made for 35 projects, ten Development Consent Orders have been approved, and the Infrastructure Planning Commission has come into being - and gone again.  The Planning Act itself, secondary legislation made under it, guidance from the government and advice from the IPC and then the Planning Inspectorate have all been extensively amended after first being issued.  If that wasn't enough, the first major review of the regime is due next year, the aptly-named '2014 Review'.

The projects

Against this background, some of the country's most controversial infrastructure projects have been trying to get consent.  And some of the least controversial - the number of representations on applications has varied from 5 to nearly 10,000.  The Planning Act regime treats those two impostors just the same, it seems, squashing the first and drawing out the second across the same timescales.  Some applications have succeeded, some haven't stayed the distance and others have been given consent but are now being challenged in the courts.  Notably the first application to be accepted is still stuck in the Planning Act regime some 1077 days after the application was made.  On the other hand some applications have emerged unscathed, unchallenged and on time.

The government

The government, meanwhile, have been trying to improve the system without changing it so much that experience and confidence are lost.  They have been committing more and more future money to infrastructure as a key to unlocking growth, but the various sectors have yet to respond to any great degree.  In particular the 2020 renewable energy target looks unlikely to be met and the prospect of blackouts before then is a real possibility.  A National Infrastructure Plan has been produced for the first time and updated a few times, but it isn't really a plan as such.

The promise

The promised one stop shop of single consenting still isn't with us, and a 'bazaar' of different consents is still needed. Having said that, the government have boarded up some shops that weren't being used and have introduced two personal shoppers in the form of the Consents Service Unit and the Major Infrastructure and Environment Unit (for habitats issues). I think that's enough for that particular analogy.

The other promise that the regime was intended to deliver a 'faster and fairer' system.  When it works well, the new regime is certainly faister.  The inspectors have contributed to equality of arms by investigating applications themselves rather than just leaving it to opponents.  But is it fairer? What is 'fairer'?  Pre-application consultation must be carried out and responses must be taken into account, but if an objector says 'I don't like the effect on my garden' rather than 'parcel 05006 should be removed from the scope of compulsory purchase and requirement 23 should be amended to require an attenuation strategy for the effects of noise on domestic properties to be agreed with the local planning authority before development can commence', will they be taken as seriously?

The future

The Planning Act regime is clearly here to stay for some time.  It has survived one general election and there is no suggestion it wouldn't survive another.  Apart from the 2014 Review, the focus may switch to reducing the time taken for legal challenges, and, as more projects get consent, implementability.  It is a criminal offence to deviate from a Development Consent Order and to change one in a material way requires a process not much different from a whole new application.  Once one or two projects have had to undergo this, it may get changed - or how about changing it before some projects get bogged down?

The blog

The first blog entry said 'I hope that this blog will become essential reading for anyone considering promoting or likely to be affected by a major infrastructure project, and should become a useful resource for finding all matters relating to the new regime in one place'. Not sure if it is essential but it has at least achieved a fair amount of recognition in the 'industry' (and mocking from my children), and contains what I hope is a useful record of the evolution of an important new legal regime.  There have been one or two scoops but believe me, a lot hasn't made it into print.

Blog entry 500 is coming up, probably around October, not far off the fifth anniversary of the Planning Act the following month, and I am considering holding some sort of early evening event for subscribers.  There will be alcohol.  Watch this space!

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