UK: Quick Guide: The Barker Review

Last Updated: 15 January 2007

Editor: David Watkins

Barker Review of Land Use Planning Kate Barker published the final report of her independent review of land use planning on 5 December 2006. It contained a number of recommendations for the Government.


Kate Barker was commissioned by the Chancellor and the Deputy Prime Minister in December 2005 to conduct an independent review of the land use planning system in England. The terms of reference were to consider how the planning system could better deliver economic growth alongside other sustainable development goals. In particular, Barker was asked to assess:

  • ways of improving the efficiency and speed of the system;
  • ways of increasing the flexibility, transparency and predictability that enterprise requires;
  • the relationship between planning and productivity, and how the outcomes of the planning system can better deliver its sustainable economic objectives; and
  • the relationship between economic and other sustainable development goals in the delivery of sustainable communities.

Barker published an interim report in July 2006 and the final report on 5 December 2006.

Key recommendations

Barker sets out 32 recommendations for wide-ranging planning reform which can be broadly summarised as falling into three thematic areas: enhancing the responsiveness of the system to economic factors; improving the efficiency of the system to reduce the costs associated with delivering desired outcomes; and ensuring that there is an appropriate use of land. Key recommendations include:

  • streamlining policy and processes to reduce unnecessary levels of complexity: reducing policy guidance, unifying consent regimes and reforming plan-making at the local level so that future development plan documents can be delivered in 18-24 months rather than 3 or more years;
  • reforming national policy on planning for economic development: new Planning Policy Statement on Economic Development (PPS4) should ensure that the benefits of development are fully taken into account in plan-making and decision-taking, with a more explicit role for market and price signals;
  • introducing a new system for dealing with major infrastructure projects: a new system based around national Statements of Strategic Objectives and the Government should establish an Independent Planning Commission to decide major infrastructure planning applications;
  • promoting a positive planning culture within a plan-led system: when the plan is indeterminate, applications should be approved unless there is good reason to believe that the environmental, social and economic costs will exceed the respective benefits;
  • enhancing fiscal incentives to ensure an efficient use of urban land: reforming business rate relief for empty property, exploring the options for a charge on vacant and derelict previously developed land, and, separately consulting on reforms to Land Remediation Relief;
  • ensuring that new development beyond towns and cities occurs in the most sustainable way by encouraging planning bodies to review their green belt boundaries: Whilst the green belt is an important planning policy tool, the green belt now covers almost 13 per cent of England, and given the need for development, regional and local planning bodies should review their green belt boundaries to ensure they remain relevant and appropriate;
  • a more risk-based and proportionate approach to regulation: a reduction in form-filling, including the introduction of new proportionality thresholds to reduce the transaction costs for business and to increase the speed of decision-making;
  • removing the need for minor commercial developments that have little wider impact to require planning permission: this could include commercial microgeneration;
  • supporting the ‘town-centre first’ policy, but removing the requirement to demonstrate the ‘need’ for development;
  • consider how fiscal incentives can be better aligned so that local authorities are in a position to share the benefits of local economic growth: this could include adoption of the proposed Planning-Gain Supplement;
  • ensuring that Secretary of State decisions focus on important, strategic issues: Call-in should be used only in exceptional circumstances for those cases where significant national or wider than local issues are raised (particularly where there is no clear framework at the regional and local level to enable appropriate decision-making to be made). The aim should be to reduce the applications called-in by 50 per cent by 2008-09;
  • ensuring sufficient resources for planning, linked to improved performance: this could include consulting on raising the £50,000 fee cap and allowing applicants to pay for additional resources to help process application expeditiously;
  • enhancing efficiencies in processing applications: greater use of partnership working with the private sector, joint-working with other local authorities to achieve efficiencies of scale and scope, and an expanded role of the central support function ATLAS; and
  • speeding up the appeals system: introduction of a Planning Mediation Service, better resourcing, and allowing Inspectors to determine the appeal route. From 2008-09 appeals should be completed in 6 months.

Government response and next steps

The Government has broadly welcomed the recommendations of the Barker Review and agrees with its overall analysis. A Planning Reform White Paper is expected in the spring of 2007, where the Government will set out its responses to the recommendations of the review. The White Paper is also expected to set out the Government’s response to the recommendations of Rod Eddington’s review with respect to major infrastructure planning reform.

Implications for clients

Many of the review’s recommendations, if effectively implemented, will mean good news for clients who deal with the planning system in England as the proposed reforms should lead to a faster, transparent and more efficient planning regime.

Industry groups, such as the British Property Federation, have expressed a similar view. BPF Chief Executive Liz Peace said: "Kate has come up with an interesting cocktail of recommendations, almost all of which we would welcome, with many being ones we had previously suggested. I don’t believe these measures would lead to uncontrolled development or the neglect of community interests. What Kate is trying to do is make the planning system work efficiently – she is not proposing that we demolish it."

At this stage, however, the Barker Review’s recommendations are only recommendations – we cannot expect concrete planning reform proposals until the Government publishes its Planning Reform White Paper in Spring 2007.

This publication is intended merely to highlight issues and not to be comprehensive, nor to provide legal advice. Should you have any questions on issues reported here or on other areas of law, please contact one of your regular contacts at Linklaters, or contact the editors.

© Linklaters. All Rights reserved 2007

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