Prepare for UK NIMBY Government – big, radical, scary policies

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By Nick Keable,
Vice President, UK Operations, The Saint Consulting Group 

Assuming that the Tories do manage to come out of the General Election in control of the UK, and that is by no means certain at all, they have this week laid out their proposals for reform of the planning system.  And it’s big.  And radical.  And scary.

Most scary of all is the introduction of third party rights of appeal.  This could be truly horrible for the development sector.  Labour flirted with the idea earlier this decade but backed off.  In Scotland, they came close but stayed sane.  Let’s hope that this is an idea that can be seen off  as a ‘sacrificial layer’ of their proposals.  But maybe not.  The Tories are now the party of NIMBYism.  They are no longer the party of business.  And their ‘localism’ mantra is the driver for this new found love for third party rights, so it may be hard to disabuse them of the third party appeal concept.

The second fundamental fear is the impact of yet another – the third – round of planning system reform since 1997; all policy certainty shot to pieces, council officers sucked out of development control and into policy making, not to mention the inevitable ‘planning by appeal decision’ which during any transitional period always occurs.

There would be winners and losers in this new system. 

The losers would be regional government (which would be abolished), potentially developers of major infrastructure projects (whose planning regime would once again be controlled by politicians) and frankly all other developers (who will be impacted by the sclerotic affect of any change to the planning system, as well as a more difficult planning regime at the end of it all).

The winners are many: LPAs (which gain lots more power), county councils (which are being given a role once again), NIMBYs (who will find it much easier to campaign against development) and, of course, planning consultants (who will have to help us mere mortals understand what the hell is going on)!

See here our bullet point summary of the Tories’ proposals…

Short Guide to the Main Proposals in the Conservatives’ Planning Green Paper

National policy

Human Rights Act – Replaced by a new Bill of Rights

New primary legislation – Local Government and Housing Bill, Queen’s Speech 2010

New National Planning Framework – Will include all PPS’, debated and adopted by Parliament

Use Class Order – Replaced by “flexible zoning” ie freely change use within a range

Planning gain – New ‘Single Unified Tariff’ slimmed down S106, graded on development size.  CiL to be abolished

All Killian Pretty recommendations accepted.  New Killian Pretty Review to look at expanding permitted development

Regional/sub-regional policy

All RDAs to be abolished – Consulting with GLA on London

All RSS’ to be scrapped – Perhaps quickly by executive order

New sub-regional policy – County structure plans return but now called Infrastructure Plans

Local policy

LDFs replaced by local plans – Must use ‘collaborative democracy’ process to consult

Time limit for adopting new local plans – Otherwise national planning guidance conformant applications will get automatic approval

Plan changes – Removal of inspectors’ power to change new local plans at inquiry.  Instead, inspector reports to SoS for breaches of national guidance, SoS to decide, then LPA amends and resubmits

Transitional arrangements – LPAs can cull disliked ‘imposed policies’

Architectural/design standards – Must be included in new local plans

New ‘duty to cooperate’ – For statutory consultees on new local plans

Incentivisation – Let LPAs keep council tax/business rates increase and match it for 6 years.  Additionally, LPAs will retain some of the new Single Unified Tariff

Development control

New third party rights of appeal

But only 2 grounds for appeal – “Procedure” (dealt with by Local Government Ombudsman) and “in contravention of LDF” (dealt with by Planning Inspectorate).  JR process as per now

Pre-application consultation – Mandatory ‘collaborative design’, by enquiry by design, charettes etc for larger projects

Objections – Significant number of objectors triggers conformity assessment of application

Neighbour compensation – Pay off your objectors.  Parish councils considered neighbours

Councillor interests – Change to ‘predetermination rules’.  Let councillors oppose development openly

Parking – National standards to be abolished.  LPA to decide local standards

Major infrastructure

IPC – Becomes ‘Major Infrastructure Unit’ within Planning Inspectorate

Major linear projects – Via hybrid or private Parliamentary bills

Ministers’ final decision – Set time limit for making decision


Housing targets – Abolished. Use so called “Option 1 numbers”

Affordable housing – Local targets set by LPAs (125% council tax incentive)

Density – Scrap PPS 3 targets

Back gardens – Changed back to greenfield from brownfield


Needs test – Reinstated

Competition test – Must be taken into account


Strategic planning – RSS responsibilities back to minerals/waste planning authorities


New schools – Automatic right of change of use to education

D1 land cannot change use – Unless Education Secretary allows

Appeals – Dealt with by new Major Infrastructure Unit

Wind energy

LPA keeps business rates of operational wind farms for 6 years

Community ownership to be explored

Discounted electricity for communities in local vicinity to be explored

Mobile phone masts

End permitted development rights – All masts must have full application

Previously discussed emerging policy that did not make it into the Green Paper

Abolition of LPA centralized performance targets, Planning Delivery Grant, application timescales

‘Merton Rule’ expansion

TIFs or bonds

Referenda for controversial projects – Petition of 10% of local electorate

Abolition of GoL – All powers to Mayor, GLA or London boroughs

Other relevant emerging policy not discussed in the Green Paper

Cease Government support for Heathrow 3rd runway.  Promote high speed rail

U-turn on empty business rates

Mayors for 12 large cities

Nick Keable is vice president for UK Operations, The Saint Consulting Group, email, phone +44 207 592 7050

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