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If Lord Heseltine wants planning decisions within six months then we need to leave the EU

Yesterday I mentioned some of the recommendations in Lord Heseltine's report that I liked the look of.

Another promising theme was the need to reduce delays in reaching planning decisions.

Lord Heseltine writes:

I remember arriving as a fresh faced cabinet minister in 1979 at the Department for the Environment and asking to see the rules placed on local authority housing developments. I was shown the forms, asking no fewer than 80 questions, including slope of the roof, colour and type of brick and window area. I used to keep the forms pinned up on my wall to remind me of the perils of over regulation.

He adds:

Planning decisions are still too often lengthy and bureaucratic. There is simply no sense of urgency or any understanding of the economic cost of delays. The appeals system adds more time to the process.

Nowhere else can the pedestrian speed of decision making in this country – and its effects – be more damaging than in planning. There are countless jobs tied up in the filing cabinets of the planning machine.

To be clear, I am not calling for the nature of those decisions to change. I support fully the rights of inter ested parties on both sides of any decision to have their views taken into account. The outcome just needs to be reached more quickly. I believe that the Government is moving in the right direction on this issue, but I think more can be done.

When decisions are taken, applicants are often reluctant to appeal to the Planning Inspectorate, especially if they do a lot of business with their planning authority. The Inspectorate should be given powers to call in any application after six months which they consider is being dealt with inefficiently , to ensure that decisions are reached with optimum speed.

Good stuff. The Government are already introducing a Planning Guarantee that decisions should be made with a year. Why not make it six months?

However when the Planning Inspectorate make their enquiries as to the reason for such absurd delays they may well find that the process has been delayed by a Judicial Review. It might be spurious and eventually will be thrown out of court but it still piles on expensive delays.

What is the basis for applications for Judicial Review?

Well there's the Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive, the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive, the Flooding Directive, the Habitats Directive, the Wild Birds Directive, the Waste Framework Directive, the Revised Waste Framework Directive, the Seveso II Directive Renewable Energy Directive, the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, the Environmental Noise Directive, the Draft Airport Noise Regulation, the Draft Energy Efficiency Directive, the Draft Regulation on trans-European energy infrastructure, the Water Framework Directive, the Air Quality Directive and the Soil Framework Directive.

How the planning lawyers must weep with joy at the complexity, the duplication, the contradiction and the perversity of it all. Take a guess where all these directives come from? That's right the European Union. Has such and such a requirement of some EU directive or other not been complied with? The judge, usually not a planning specialist, thinks better allow a court hearing to thrash it out.

Lord Heseltine's report contains 89 recommendations. If he really wants to streamline the planning process he should add a 90th: Withdrawal of the United Kingdom's membership of the European Union.

Over to you, Tarzan.


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