The development industry has hardly had a chance to catch its breath since the introduction of the Localism Act and CIL when yet another raft of proposals to fundamentally reform the planning system landed on our desks last week. At first glance, The Growth & Infrastructure Bill will, if passed, assist developers in getting schemes through the planning process.
Arguably, the most important proposal is the ability for developers to apply for planning permission directly to the Secretary of State in areas where the local planning authority (LPA) has been “designated”, presumably for poor performance. The opportunity to bypass an uncooperative LPA will no doubt be seen as manna from heaven by developers. However, the provision raises a number of interesting questions.
First, will the Secretary of State properly step into the shoes of the LPA and “negotiate” the application with the developer, as is currently the case with LPAs, or will he just issue a decision? As the Secretary of State’s decision is final and there is no right of appeal, developers could be deprived of a second bite of the cherry and have only one “hit” to get consent.
Second, who, in reality, will carry out this role? Will the Secretary of State delegate authority to the Planning Inspectorate, as he currently does with planning appeals? If so, the Planning Inspectorate needs to be properly resourced to cope with the demand. Under what timescales will the Secretary of State/the Planning Inspectorate operate?
Third, the detail of how and why LPAs will be “designated” is yet to come forward. Even if designations are few and far between, will the threat of a designation itself make some LPAs pull their socks up?
One cannot knock the Government for at least attempting to speed up the planning process and address the concerns of the development industry even though the attempt seems something of a knee jerk reaction. However, it will only be once some flesh has been put on the bones of the Bill that we will be able to assess whether this really is manna from heaven or more stale bread.