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President's Piece

Date: 11/11/2010

What's that coming over the hill
Is it a monster? Is it a monster?

That monster of a Decentralisation & Localism Bill is due to be published later this month, so there is finally an end to the recent fervent activity in the Society as we threw our last minute thoughts on localism and planning at ministers and civil servants, in the hope that we could still influence the drafting. It will be published this month, and will not be deferred as some commentators once thought. Ministers are still saying it will be November, and last week's White Paper on Local Growth says November.

And it will be a radical bill, according to Whitehall sources. The "broken" planning system will be transformed by a transfer of planning power and influence from central government, through local councils, to people at the neighbourhood level. Councils will prepare a new kind of "Local Plan" for their area, and communities will, with council support, prepare neighbourhood plans, so that planning policy is made from the bottom up - or so the theory goes.

Lots of other stuff in the "Open Source" green paper will appear in the Bill, in some shape or form: the formal abandonment of RSS; the duty to cooperate; the Community Right to Build; planning for schools; and financial incentives to build homes. And Councils will not be able to reject planning applications that meet a new definition of "sustainable development". If you haven't read "Open Source Planning" yet, I would urge you to - get warmed up to the change before the Bill is published.

The green paper does include proposals that are, frankly, poorly thought through, and I have my fingers crossed that at least some of those will be dropped or modified. But, in principle, there is a lot that is positive about planning and localism, and your Society has been as positive as it can in its responses about how to make a new system work - elsewhere in this e-bulletin you will find links to our latest guidance.

As well as expressing my immense gratitude to the many authors of the guidance, I also give special praise to Catriona Riddell and Malcolm Sharp who were called before the House of Commons Communities & Local Government Committee last month to answer questions on the abolition of RSS. They gave good account of the Society's concerns and suggestions for future strategic working between councils, despite the occasional untimely interruption of the Division Bell.

So, we now wait in keen anticipation to see the detail in the bill, before being plunged into another round of consultation. On a personal note, I think the biggest opportunity we have here is to suggest how under the new system, which in reality is likely to be an adaptation of the LDF, we could prepare and amend plans much more quickly - the LDF became bogged down in its over-detailed evidence base and anal processes, and lost credibility with the outside world as a consequence - and cost far too much to prepare. I would suggest that once a council has a Core Strategy or Local Plan that has been rigorously tested at examination, all the plans that flow from it, and neighbourhood plans that conform to it, should have the equivalent of DPD status, with the LPA determining the adoption process, including whether to have any public examination of key issues. For localism in planning to be meaningful, councils have to be trusted to get the process right, to give a fair hearing to objectors, and take full responsibility for planning policy in their areas.

stephen-tapper-pos.jpg Stephen Tapper, President 2010/11; president@planningofficers.org.uk

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