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Planning Bill - legal issues could delay decisions warning

Jul 28, 2008

Further information
Anne Harrison

Planning reforms due to be debated on the first day back for the House of Lords in October, need to be significantly changed if they are to speed up decision making, say members of the UK Environmental Law Association's Planning and Sustainable Development working party. They argue that some of the proposals in the Bill are unlawful, unstreamlined, unfair and unworkable in their current form.

UKELA's Planning and Sustainable Development Working Party has written to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Hazel Blears MP, with concerns over the Planning Bill. The Bill had its Second Reading in the Lords before the summer recess which has just begun.

The Working Party wants to see a streamlined, efficient, effective, fair and lawful planning process to control the development of nationally significant infrastructure projects, like energy generation facilities, railways, harbours and hazardous waste and waste water treatment plants.

However the Working Party is concerned that the Bill will deliver a regime that fails to comply with the UK's European and international obligations. They say that contrary to government expectations it will not speed up decision making or cut carbon emissions. Instead, the proposals could simply put blockages in the system through legal challenge.

Working Party members view the Planning Bill as the golden opportunity for a regime to be put in place for the efficient delivery of much needed infrastructure projects and hope their constructive comments will be helpful.

The letter to the Minister says proposals in the Bill are unstreamlined, unfair, unworkable and risk being unlawful, in their current form, principally:

1. it fails to implement the UK's commitment to the European Environmental Impact Assessment Directive

2. it fails to integrate the requirements of the Aarhus Convention, European Convention on Human Rights, Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive and Habitats Directive

3. it is likely to lead to blockages (as legal challenges are launched) in the system in different places than at present

4. it is likely to stifle the ability of communities to participate effectively in planning nationally significant infrastructure projects.

The Working Party supports the principle of creating a single streamlined system of obtaining development consent for projects which currently require a variety of permissions and consents under different regimes, such as the Pipe-lines Act 1962, Harbours Act 1964, Gas Act 1965, Electricity Act 1989 and Transport and Works Act 1990. The proposals in the Bill will not achieve this though and a speeding up of the procedure for delivering major infrastructure projects could be achieved without creating a wholly new and untested application and examination procedure, by Inspectors exercising greater control over proceedings under the current inquiry regime.

A copy of the full representation is available on request.

Notes to the editors:

1. Planning has a fundamental impact on the environment. Members of UKELA's members include many of the UK's leading practitioners in both planning and environment law who are well placed to assess the likely impact of the proposed legislation.
2. UKELA members are as likely to act for government, private sector developers, public sector regulators and public sector planning authorities as they are for local community groups or NGOs who will seek to challenge major development proposals.

UK Environmental Law Association - Better law for the environment
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Registered office: One Glass Wharf, Bristol, BS2 0ZX

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