Posted by: westlancashirerecord | September 5, 2018

No Appreciation For The Greenbelt?

As expected, the furore over local planning has boiled over. Labour, in opposition to the Tory Local Plan 2012-27, is now itself opposed by no less a planning luminary than Cllr David Westley who describes it as “crazy”. And who knows more about crazy than the man who accused opponents who fought Tory plans for Parrs Lane of telling lies door to door and wasting time campaigning against it? So we’ll take no lessons from him. The Tory inclusion of Parrs Lane would appear to have been forgotten as Westley tells the Champion “They simply do not appreciate the importance of our Green Belt”! 

The OWLs are more restrained, accusing Labour of basing its plan on “entirely the wrong premise”.

And the Director of Planning at WLBC John Harrison states that “A robust Local Plan also means the council will be in a better position to make planning decisions so they are done at a local level rather than being made by a national planning inspector”. Who can forget that one site yet again under threat of development is Parrs Lane Aughton, still safe guarded until 20127 by the High Court, unless another Local Plan trumps it?

But readers of Construction News  might know more than our local politicians. Under a headline of “Those pesky environmentalists are at it again” CN has declared  “Not content with endlessly quipping ‘I told you so’ during the recent heat wave, they’ve now thrown a spanner in the works of Theresa May’s housing master plan: the National Planning Policy Framework. The NPPF reforms were introduced in July this year and are intended to simplify and speed up the planning applications process, while also giving more powers to local authorities.

Friends of the Earth  has filed a legal action against the government at the High Court, claiming that the reforms were illegally developed because the new framework’s environmental impact was not assessed. Under EU law, planning programmes that impact the use of land and the wider environment must go through a strategic environmental assessment (SEA) before they can be adopted.

Friends of the Earth “wants to force the government to undertake a SEA, consult the public and modify the framework based on those findings”. Before going any further, it’s worth noting that, if true, it would be a spectacular oversight from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

In response to a request for comment from Construction News, a department spokesperson said “Environmental protection is at the heart of our new planning rulebook, setting clear expectations for future development. “While this legal case is ongoing, it would be inappropriate to comment further”.

Not exactly the same take-no-prisoners reply No 10 issued in response to Boris Johnson’s latest attack on the Brexit Chequers deal. So did the department simply forget about the SEA? It seems unlikely, given it’s a common threshold that frameworks with less scope than the NPPF must satisfy.

Or is it the case that the NPPF is not a ‘plan’ or ‘programme’ in the sense required by European Directive 2001/42/EC? Winkworth Sherwood head of planning Karen Cooksley  suggests the case could hinge on this point, as “much will depend on whether the court can be persuaded that the NPPF is a ‘plan or a programme’, rather than guiding principles”.

The legal challenge could end up failing, in which case, it’s as you were. But what if it succeeds? What happens to all the planning applications that are now being filed, informed by the reformed NPPF, some of which could be approved before the court case reaches its conclusion – will these applications have to be done again? If so, the reforms will have fallen some way short of streamlining the planning process. Article by Binyamin Ali, features editor, Construction News. 

Wouldn’t it be a hoot if an EU Directive buggers up Local Plans just before we leave the EU?


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