Lawyers warn of no quick planning fix

The City’s planning lawyers have viewed the latest attempts to simplify the UK’s complex planning system with optimism, but warn that there will be no overnight fixes.

The 200-page interim report into the cumbersome system, prepared by economist Kate Barker, details the economic problems businesses face when seeking to develop land, while also acknowledging that there are often valid local and environmental concerns against such developments.

The report is also likely to have massive planning implications for nuclear power plants, expected to get the green light in the Government’s energy review, which is due to be handed down later this month.

The overwhelming view from the City’s leading planning lawyers was that, while the Barker Report was interesting, it offered no real solutions.

Herbert Smith planning partner Matthew White said an analysis from an economic point of view gave a good insight into the problems caused by planning delays.

“We’re going to have to wait until next year, when the full report is published, before we get any idea of what they’re proposing as solutions,” said White. “Gordon Brown and [Housing Minister] Yvette Cooper are talking about a complete reform of the planning system, but they’ve only just introduced huge reforms which are only now bedding down. It’s far too early to be doing it all again.”

The Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 is still in the final stages of having its full regulations introduced, and planning lawyers were “often left struggling to keep up”, said White.

It was a view echoed by SJ Berwin planning partner Duncan Field, who said the Barker Report suggested that UK regulations could be impacted by an EU directive on preparing environmental impact assessments (EIAs).

“In the UK we tend to do an EIA only at the first stage and don’t think of it again, but we’re now looking at a process where we could be duty-bound to consider it all the way to the end,” he said. “It potentially could cause a reassessment and set a development back to square one.”