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The Planning Blues:


A short article by Rob Gillespie Managing Director of Impact Planning Services Ltd.


Planning application fees have just increased by 20% in England. Most local planning authorities hope to direct additional monies raised towards improving their town planning service. That service has significantly declined over the last decade as the austerity measures imposed by central government hit local authority budgets.


Planning is a politically charged authority function. It is exposed to ridicule, cynicism and an easy target for the media. It often forces Planning Committees to make locally unpopular decisions but isn’t, unlike say education, social services, or policing, regarded as a “front line service”.


Consequently, some of the largest cuts have been made within planning departments. The result is inadequate performance, severe shortages of experienced planners, an over reliance on job sharing or part-time staff and declining morale. Virtually everyone having to use the planning system is complaining.


Ironically this has all taken place at the same that central government is striving to “boost significantly the supply of housing” in response to a severe national housing crisis which is affecting most of the population, either directly or indirectly, but more especially those under 40 years old seeking to gain a first rung on the housing ladder or reasonably priced rented accommodation. The implications for society in continually failing this growing unmet need are grave.


Coupled with this, the Government now intends to publish a reviewed draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) around Easter. No doubt great news for lawyers, barristers and court judges who have had to grapple with the interpretation of the current edition since publication in 2012.


Supposedly a simplification of the planning rules, regulation and guidance which only experts could understand, the “user friendly” NPPF did the complete opposite and only very recently has the Supreme Court pronounced* upon how key aspects of the 2012 publication should actually work. And yet we are about to go around again.


In all of this one thing is clear. The planning system is complex. It cannot be easily simplified without those unforeseen consequences - unforeseen to those drafting change but not to practitioners, hindering progress. Leave well alone? I say yes but those in charge think they know better. We shall see. Don’t hold your breath!

*On appeals from: Easter Term[2017] UKSC 37 [2016] EWCA Civ 168, [2015] EWHC 132 (Admin) and [2015] EWHC 410 (Admin)

News


Recent Instructions include successfully representing Melton Borough Council at a major appeal into an onshore wind turbines development at Asfordby, Leicestershire. The Practice represented the Borough Council which opposed the construction of nine turbines within an area of the Leicestershire Wolds regarded as a locally valued landscape. The area also contains numerous heritage assets such as listed churches, listed farm buildings and conservation areas together with remnant medieval field systems and deserted villages. This appeal was dismissed by the Secretary of State in March 2014.


The practice represented Gloucestershire County Council at an appeal for a combustion energy from waste plant at Javeline Park south of Gloucester. This was a major public inquiry also attended by a public action group opposed to the scheme. The evidence was wide ranging however the Waste Planning Authority's case as part represented by this Practice focussed upon the unneccesarily large scale and mass of the proposed building in relation to the setting of the Cotswolds AONB and various heritage assets within the vicinity of the site.


The Practice has also become involved with rural tourism and recreational developments. Recent instructions include the development of a micro-brewery and farm shop in association with the Paulet Arms (Three Daggers) in Edington, Wiltshire. Planning advice and support was provided for the project which is now trading and attracting a great deal of interest from others looking to stimulate their local economies. The Practice has also recently been appointed to provide advice to the Oxford Diocesan Board of Finance and Beckington Parish Council (Somerset).


We have been appointed to prepare and submit a planning application for a new crematorium at Romsey within the Test Valley Borough Council area on behalf of the Westerleigh Group Ltd. We are also currently providing specialist assistance to a number of Neighbourhood Plan working groups and also advising those seeking to participate within the process.


Of particular note amongst recent instructions are those relating to rural local needs housing, certificates of lawful use or development, agricultural contractors' operations, agricultural workers' dwellings, representations upon emerging Core Strategies/Local Plans and other DPDs, independent advice to parish and town councils, public consultation and exhibitions.


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