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Town Planning

The Chancellor’s Autumn Statement in October 2010 confirmed the coalition Government’s intention to continue with its National Planning Policy Framework. There had been an expectation that some of the opposition to the reduction in national rules and policies would bring about a diluting of the proposals, but this does not seem to be so. Essentially, the Government is set on course to make obtaining planning permission easier, or at the very least quicker, and that there should be an assumption in favour of granting approval rather than against unless proved otherwise.

No-one seems to have any inkling of what the notion of local decision making (localism) will mean in practice. In theory, Local Authorities should be able to make fast and positive decisions largely freed-up from National Policy Guidelines, most of which no longer exist. In practice, if the Local Authority is minded to grant approval and yet there are strong and well organised local pressure groups, all of whom are made-up of people who are voters, will they be able to exert inordinate influence? This may well mean that a development that is good for the town, such as a new road, an industrial estate, a hi-tech development facility in the Green Belt etc. may be derailed because it is not good for the particular locality where it is proposed to place it.

So far, some Councils are showing much greater flexibility in contemplating supporting proposals which previously they might have been able to refuse very easily. This may, in part, be down to an understanding of how important it is to try and help with economic regeneration in these very difficult times rather than anything to do with changes in the planning framework itself. There is little, if any, evidence to demonstrate that decisions are being speeded-up, however. This may partly be due to Councils’ preoccupations with all the cuts in staffing and services which they are currently introducing rather than a lack of desire. The Autumn Statement included a proposal that all applications should be dealt with within thirteen weeks. Will this make any difference at all or will it, in fact, just lead to faster decisions of the wrong sort and, therefore, either quality proposals being abandoned or yet more appeals. If economic activity were not so depressed the property development industry would probably be attempting to force the pace of change and take advantage of these theoretical opportunities. As physical development is now at just about its lowest level for many years the changes will evolve much more slowly. This essentially means that each application will be viewed on its merits, as ever.

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