Is planning really holding back economic growth?

As planners we’re often accused of being a ‘dead weight’ on the economy, of holding back investment and productivity. But talk to most local authoriities and you’ll find they are doing their best to release investment and grow their local economies – granting permission wherever possible.

But as planners in the private sector or the public secor, we all have to implement and operate within the laws set down by parliament – it may come as a shock to many that in the period 2010-16 there were five UK Acts of Parliament containing 143 planning-related clauses taking up over 150 pages of statute. In addition there were other Acts containing planning-related schedules which contained 274 paragraphs taking up 74 pages of statute.

Planning legislation comes from our own politicians – its not decided by the european Commission, it is and has always remained the responsibility of our elected MP’s.

But the real problem lies in the volume of whats called ‘secondary legislation’ – recently called Henry VIII clauses – decided by ministers with no debate in parliament.  Over the period 2010-16 we’ve counted 140 Statutory Orders applying to planning in England. These contained an astonishing 1290 statutory regulations running to 1734 pages. This count excludes almost all the statutory orders following the Housing and Planning Act 2016. These have yet to be published.

The Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) Regulations were first published in 2010 and were amended in each of the following four years, not only raising questions about their effectiveness but making it a quagmire for investors.

There were changes to the General Permitted Development Order in every year, culminating in the 2015 Order which ran to 164 pages but this was again changed in 2016.

Neighbourhood planning gives local people and businesses a say in planning their neighbourhood, yet the 2012 regulations covering the conduct of referendums alone runs to 122 pages, making the system impossible for  lay people to engage with or understand.

More widely, the volume of legislation has produced a chaotic and expensive planning system, subject to constant political intervention and change – as planners we’re struggling to understand the changes let alone implment them! Look at the courts and you’ll see that as the system gets ever more complex there are more errors, more challenges and more delays.

Can we please have ‘simplification’ not political ‘tinkering’?  Just one suggestion – any changes need to be inaccordance with the Office of Parliamentary Counsel’s definition of good law

  • necessary
  • clear
  • coherent
  • effective
  • accessible

more musings to follow

Allen Creedy MRTPI