Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Planning system becomes more laboured

Changes to the planning system which were mooted by New Labour in earlier, more radical, times have now effectively been abandoned by John Prescott. The Deputy Prime Minister’s Office has published more of the detail on changes to the current planning system, writes Ken Djiksman*.

One of the biggest changes now proposed is in relation to refusals. In the past there was no limit to the number of refusals you could clock up on a site. But now if a similar proposal is refused twice within two years and no Appeal is lodged the local authority can ‘decline to determine’ any more similar applications. Although this sounds simple it could have big implications. If you try and negotiate an approval by making minor amendments (compromises) in order to satisfy the planners they can simply turn around and refuse to make a decision on the third application you submit. And there is no appeal against this other than via the courts.

Another change is to the length of time planning consent lasts for. Planning permissions have generally lasted five years, since the system was introduced in 1947. For no apparent reason this has now been reduced to three years. This means that outline planning applications will also now expire after three years if the reserved matters (detailed plans) are not agreed. The net result of this change is just to increase bureaucracy.

In an attempt to speed up the bureaucracy of planning another of the changes may do exactly the opposite. When a planning application is submitted various organisations are consulted, for example this might include the Environment Agency or English Heritage. They have always been under pressure to respond quickly, but now this has become a legal requirement within 21 days. But a response can be as simple as a standard holding objection or request for more information, it does not need to be an answer. So in the cause of meeting targets this new power will just slow the system down as more letters are sent, simply to meet the targets – rather than achieve a result.

To sum up, these changes just tinker with the existing system and make a little more complicated and slower, good news for the consultants and unemployed planners but a bit of pain for everybody else!

* Ken Dijksman is an independent self employed planning consultant with
extensive experience in both public and private practice. He may be e-mailed at

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