Third party rights of appeal: a NIMBY charter that may not last in UK

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By Nick Keable,

Vice President – UK Operations, The Saint Consulting Group

In February, the then opposition Conservative Party launched its discussion paper on how the UK planning (permitting and zoning) system should be reorganised, Open Source Planning.  Almost all of its proposals had been trailed very heavily in the media beforehand, as is now the norm for politicians the world over.  Apart from one proposal, however.  The announcement about third party rights of appeal came somewhat out of the blue.

Many countries have third party rights of appeal – an appeal process where once planning consent is given to an applicant, another party can then challenge it, a sort of reverse right of appeal – but England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are not amongst them.

The Scottish Government flirted with the idea a few years ago when it reformed its planning system.  Having peeked over the abyss, it quietly walked away from the idea, with wails of despair from Scottish NIMBYs.

What we can see from the United States, Ireland and other countries that do have this process is that it acts as a NIMBY’s charter.  Anyone who is against a development for whatever reason – a fear of change, a worry about what it will do to the value of their home or a feared negative impact on their business – uses this process to frustrate planning applications they do not like.

No one on either side of the debate does not accept that it would not add time and cost to an already slow and expensive planning regime; one which is already almost sclerotic and has been partly the cause of the UK’s woeful housing numbers, the lowest since 1924.

With the Tories more recently joining the Liberal Democrats as a political party that has sold out to anyone opposed to anything in order to get themselves elected – an unattractive aspect to the Coalition Government’s ‘localism’ agenda – is this a serious threat to development?  Many think so.  But I’m not so sure.

One of the things we have seen so far from the Coalition Government are regular examples of ‘Life of Brian’ negotiation strategies (“No, you’re meant to haggle”) otherwise known as ‘expectation management’.  Does anyone truly believe that any Government department will take a 40% cut in the forthcoming Comprehensive Expenditure Review?  No.  I thought not.

So our guess here at Saint Consulting is that third party rights of appeal have been thrown into the debate as some red meat (or perhaps more appropriately, ‘red tofu’) for the Liberal Democrat left wing, Friends of the Earth, supporters of the Campaign to Protect Rural England and their ilk.  We predict that, just like during Scotland’s planning reform exercise, it will be dropped when push comes to shove.

With the likelihood of a planning reform bill in the next Queen’s Speech – now delayed until Easter 2012 – there is still time to calm the development industry’s hyperventilation before the debate on this madness grows in earnest.  Let’s hope that sense prevails.

Nick Keable is vice president of UK operations for The Saint Consulting Group, email keable@tscg.co.uk, phone +44 207 5927050

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