Tracy Lovejoy at Irwin Mitchell Comments on Investment Zones, Infrastructure Projects and Calls for Joined Up Thinking and Proper Resourcing for Planning Departments
The Chancellor made two announcements today directly relating to planning as he focused his mini-budget on the need to booster economic growth and help British people.
Infrastructure Projects The first related to the planning process for determining applications for major infrastructure projects. The Chancellor complained that the time taken to determine these applications was too long and therefore announced that there would be a new Bill which would unpick the complex patchwork of planning restrictions and EU regulations in respect of infrastructure projects. During this process, he said that the government is going to re-assess the need for the “host” of duplications, consultations and assessments in order to speed up the consent process for infrastructure projects. In addition to that, he said that the government will publish a list of infrastructure projects which will be prioritised.
New Investment Zones Secondly, as expected, he announced the government’s intention to roll out new investment zones at specific sites across the UK- since growth focused on local areas is also part of the key to the growth that the government wants. The Chancellor revealed that the government is in early discussions with 40 authorities including Tees Valley, West Midlands, Norfolk and West of England as well as working with devolved nations. Measures within those investment zones will include “liberalising planning” with no details provided as to how he would do that (as would be expected in a mini budget). He elaborated more on the taxes that would be reduced which include income taxes, cuts in national insurance payment and other property taxes.
Both sets of planning reforms which were announced today are clearly at early stages. Economic or investments zones with lesser planning controls have been created before in the UK. It is important for the government to keep the right balance between deregulation, which is necessary for growth, and the protections contained within the current planning and environmental frame work. These include how infrastructure systems like highways will cope with the new development and how deregulated development, especially building development, will affect neighbouring properties in terms of noise, overshadowing or privacy. Local democracy is also a significant consideration as people want to have a say in what is built in their neighbourhoods and it would be interesting to know how that features in the talks which the government is having with the 40 or so authorities which the chancellor mentioned. The factors that make deregulation desirable or necessary need to be considered in conjunction with, and not in isolation of these issues.
It’s also worth emphasising that environmental considerations are no less urgent because of the economic crisis. The need to take action also needs to be considered side by side with proposals for deregulations. The assessment of the environmental impact of these proposals is critical and will be expected to take place as part of the wider impact considerations of any new legislation.
Applications for significant national infrastructure projects are currently determined under the Planning Act 2008 where the applications are submitted directly to the Planning Inspectorate for a development consent order which can include together with planning permissions, road and rights of way diversions, compulsory acquisitions for land. Development Consent Orders were introduced to provide a more streamlined and faster system to deal with multiple consents needed for infrastructures projects. One of its the main advantages is determining all necessary consents in one process rather than several statutory processes. Inevitably, because of the issues and interest involved, that one process can be significant.
The announcement in the mini-budget sounds like a review of the DCO to see whether it can be streamlined further or whether an overhaul of the system is necessary. The backdrop to this review will be the government’s continual assessment, since Brexit, of what EU rules are still necessary in the UK. It is impossible to tell at this stage what the result of that review will be and how far that process has been undergone from the mini-budget given that this change has not received as much pre-announcement publicity as the new investment zones.
Proper Resourcing for Planning Departments Finally a number of tax cuts were announced to boost inward investment and to assist ordinary people in meeting the costs of living challenges. As always, one hopes that the government recognises the importance of proper resourcing of both the local authorities and the Planning Inspectorate, who administers planning appeals as well as development consent order and that the issue of resourcing features in the plans which are revealed in the upcoming weeks.