14 July 2003
The Minister for Social Exclusion and Deputy Minister for Women Barbara Roche MP introduced the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill at second reading as setting out "a reformed planning system for the 21st century that will help us to live in sustainable communities; a reformed system that will be faster and fairer; and a reformed system that will help us to meet the challenges of the future, deal with the problems of the present and protect the heritage of the past". Unfortunately, no one seems to agree.
Shadow Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles MP said: "It imposes further regulation, greatly complicates the planning system and is likely to slow down the planning process rather than speed it up." Writing in The Lawyer (17 February), DLA associate Gill Castorina dismissed the notion that the bill was a radical overhaul.
The Government was keen to get the bill through. It was debated in only 12 sessions in Standing Committee last January. There was so little time allowed that 64 of the 90 clauses were not discussed. The press was briefed that the bill would go to the House of Lords before Easter and become law by the end of the summer. The bill then disappeared.
The Leader of the House said it "was widely regarded as important, indeed urgent", but refused to say when the report stage would happen. On 10 June, ministers secured the House of Commons' approval to carry over the bill to the next parliamentary session. The bill would be returned to Standing Committee in October and proceed to the Lords in 2004.
Ministers propose to table some 70 amendments dealing with: spelling mistakes (which had included "complusory" and "satisified"); concessions made in Standing Committee; further consideration of statements of development principles, urban development corporations, planning permission and local development orders; and the exemption of Crown land from planning control.
The Government has relied on the Crown exemption amendments as the reason for the delay, but this is palpable nonsense - the removal of the Crown exemption from planning law has been Government policy for 11 years.
These amendments are not likely to be controversial in principle, or especially difficult in detail. Professor Malcolm Grant, pro-vice-chancellor and professor of land economy at Cambridge University, observed that "this has been promised for several years for the next legislative opportunity, so there's been no shortage of preparation and drafting time". More importantly, the amendments are well within the scale acceptable during a bill's passage.
There are six opportunities to amend a bill before Parliament: the committee and report stages in the Commons; the committee, report and third reading in the House of Lords; and in consideration of second house amendments.
The Greater London Authority Bill (1999) started out with 277 clauses and 21 schedules. When it received royal assent it had 425 sections and 34 schedules. Ministers added a completely new regime for areas of outstanding natural beauty to the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill (2000) after committee in the Commons. 710 amendments were made to the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Bill (2000) in the second House, all but one with Government support. In none of these cases was the bill returned to Standing Committee.
Two possible explanations remain for the delay. One is that the Government no longer sees the bill as urgent, or even desirable. Planning reform has been led by Treasury and Department of Trade and Industry concerns that the planning system was holding up UK business. That view has been rubbished by a select committee and ministers may be realising that scrapping all current local planning policy documents and replacing them with something more complicated might not speed up the process.
Second, the bill has virtually no friends. Its measures are seen by practitioners, business, public authorities and the public as, at best, an unnecessary cluttering of the statute book, and at worst as undemocratic, delaying and damaging. Business organisations that had called for planning reform were aghast at the bill. The changes to development control - in particular statements of development principles and powers to prevent 'twin-tracking' of application, amount to a new bag of spanners to be thrown into the process. The preparation of new policy documents increases uncertainty and encourages 'planning by appeal'. For a very technical bill, there is an astounding lack of professional support.
There is a consensus that some useful reform of the planning and compulsory purchase system can be made, but no one seems to believe that the bill contains any of that. The different planning, listed building and conservation area consents can be merged and simplified. Planning obligations could be sorted out. The compulsory purchase and compensation system could be codified, consolidated and reformed, as the Government's own advisory group and the Law Commission have recommended.
Ministers will have to ask whether staggering on with a delayed and unpopular bill is better than returning with a useful bill commanding public support.
Richard Harwood is a barrister at 39 Essex Street, specialising in planning, environmental, parliamentary and public law
Airports generate contradictory emotions in us all. They are often where we begin journeys to what will, hopefully, be the holidays of our dreams. But they are also sources of noise and pollution to those who live nearby and whose suburban or rural bliss is shattered.
It is clear activity at airports will increase in the future and we shall all be more involved in them as citizens, travellers and holidaymakers - and not least as lawyers.
Economic importance and support in policy
Aviation is very important for the economy and the Government supports it. The openness of the economy encourages the growth of connections for business and London's place in the global economy means that it is likely to be connected to more places than perhaps anywhere else in the world.
A dramatic growth in demand for foreign holidays has occurred as they have become accessible to more people through low-cost flights and regional airports.
The aviation industry brings jobs and prosperity in the regions, encourages trade through passenger and freight services and provides high-quality sustainable development based in the local market. Aviation also promotes sustainability - for an equivalent journey, less carbon dioxide is emitted by an aeroplane than by its passengers travelling by car on the surface. Regional airports can also generate services that provide an attractive and efficient alternative to mainline railways. Moreover, they are funded by private capital, rather than by the Treasury.
The aviation industry provides more than 180,000 UK jobs and contributes some £10.2bn, or more than 1 per cent of gross domestic product. Passenger numbers are growing at 5 per cent per year and freight by 7 per cent. The most attractive airports from the point of view of airline services are the largest, as evidenced by Heathrow.
The Government is also interested in internal competition among airports - the equivalent to supermarkets, in that they seek to dominate an area from the best possible location. Knocking other airport locations will become an industry.
Doncaster Finningley Airport, which recently received planning permission from the Deputy Prime Minister, was hotly contested at inquiry by its main competitor in the North, the well-established Manchester Airport, which is seeking to dominate the South Yorkshire market in the future.
Regional studies and a white paper
Through regional airports studies, the Government has sought to plan regional airport provision on a 30-year planning horizon, which is set against the background of inexorably rising demand. A white paper is expected in the autumn. Inevitably, the study that has raised the greatest interest is that for the South East of England, where the omission of Gatwick from the Government's initial draft strategy because of a 1979 planning agreement between West Sussex County Council and BAA led to judicial review. In the South East, consultation has just finished on the proposal for a third, shorter runway at Heathrow, which would fulfil the hubbing needs of BA to allow interchange, one or two additional runways at Gatwick and one, two or three additional runways at Stansted. The option of a new airport site at Cliffe seems to have been abandoned.
Elsewhere in the regions there is a choice between 'fly local' from local airports and 'concentrated growth' on a few regional airports. In each case, specific questions are raised. Concentration would be on Bristol in the South West, where a new airport might be needed. In the Midlands, Birmingham would need a new runway, which will take property and might necessitate rerouting the A45. In the North, Manchester Airport may need a fourth terminal, and the airports east of the Pennines, apart from the newly-permitted Finningley, will experience moderate to great levels of surface access congestion. In Scotland there will be a choice to be made between additional runways at Glasgow or Edinburgh.
Much more work
Promoting airports has never been easy. Full environmental assessment is absolutely critical and is not easy in the context of designs that are developing over time. Even when the Government declares (under the powers it will take in the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill) that an airport project is of national or regional importance, there will still be many who will seek to challenge it. Human rights issues, and the lack of any coherent national policy on aircraft noise, will bedevil the issue, creating continuing work for lawyers and consultants and delay for projects promoters.
Ian Trehearne is co-head of the planning and environment department at Berwin Leighton Paisner