Gales View - 21st September 2011

From much that has been written and sometimes quite irresponsibly been campaigned about recently you might be forgiven for believing that changes to the planning law will result in our green and pleasant land being covered in tarmac, concrete and bricks and mortar. That, if I may be permitted to say so, is more than a little wide of the mark and some organisations and at least one national newspaper ought to be ashamed of themselves for propagating this nonsense.
 
In fact, the 1947 Planning Act carries within it a “presumption in favour of development” and in 1991 that was refined to a presumption in favour of what was contained in the Local Development Plan. Ensuring that plans have to be put together on the basis of what is sustainable locally is surely to be welcomed.
 
What has altered is the impenetrable forest of bureaucracy and red tape that now engulfs the planning process and makes it inaccessible to ordinary mortals.  As I write there are over one thousand pages of National planning policy and since only 2005 a further three thousand pages of additional `guidance` has been added.  This landscape has offered rich pickings for planning lawyers and those involved in the pre-development industry but has at the same time has removed local people from participation in the proposed developments that can so dramatically alter their environment.
 
Far from being the “Developer`s Charter” that some have sought to present,  the National Planning Policy Framework  to give it its proper name, aims to reduce the welter of print for national policy to just sixty pages. The Localism Bill abolishes regional spatial strategies and yet more print.  What these reforms do is to establish a principle that all planning is local unless there is good reason to take a national view, such as the definition of what constitutes Green Belt Land, which will be decided nationally   so that there is a uniformity of approach across the country.   Local Authority and Neighbourhood plans, approved locally through consultation, will define what constitutes acceptable local development of housing and job-creating industrial sites.
 
This shift of power to local people will, therefore, embrace the United Nations concept of sustainability and seek to ensure that the actions of one generation will not harm the interests of future generations. There is no proposed significant change to the manner in which local Councils will receive and process properly submitted planning applications within the confines of the locally approved and up-to-date plan. However, because the conditions of that plan will be a matter of legal record it is highly likely that prospective developers will take much greater care to make certain that their planning applications conform to local conditions rather than cheerfully anticipating local council rejection in the hope and expectation of forcing an application through on appeal to an inspector.
 
I see this as emphatically change for the better and, with a couple of cautions, in the local interest. It is vital that local authorities understand the importance of properly submitted and approved local plans and that local councillors who may have got into the habit of allowing difficult issues to be referred to Inspectors for decision now stand ready, willing and able to take responsibility for local development. It is vital that those generating neighbourhood plans work closely with District and City authorities to make sure that their ambitions and restrictions are compatible.  And it is vital that, until the Regional Strategies are eliminated by a change in the law the Minister makes certain that adequate transitional provisions are in place so that development does not run amok while local plans in the pipeline are being finalised and approved.
 
To the sceptics I would add this final comment: the Minister in charge of the Localism Bill is the Kent MP, Greg Clark. (Tunbridge Wells). It was Greg who so vehemently opposed the “garden grabbing” development of `brownfield sites`. He is not a man who wishes to preside over the rape of rural England.

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