Page 5

Planning law is not simply a mechanism to confront or accelerate development as it arises. It is much more complex than that. Planning, itself, is planned. In the UK, a multi-tiered, ‘plan-led’ system is in place, where localism plays a crucial role. Local Development Plans mean that local authorities can determine general development strategy and specific areas for land-use change. Naturally, close attention must be paid to the national strategy when such local plans are drawn up. Stroud District Council’s plan, for example, follows the national emphasis on construction of housing by having declared that a minimum of 2,725 new homes will be built by 2031. As with all other districts, Stroud is expected to maintain a supply of land for the next 5 years’ development. Yet since the 2011 Localism Act residents have gained a much stronger voice in planning in their area. This act meant that Neighbourhood Development Plans can be created by residents. The Localism Act 2011 was passed so as to make planning more democratic, allowing local people to draw up their own neighbourhood strategies and submit them to local authority, if they stand up to inspection and are supported via local referendum, such neighbourhood schemes become part of the local authority plan. This increased community involvement eases the formation of Local Development Plans and certainly helps gauge the attitudes towards location and appearance of new developments. Supporters of this localised approach claim that neighbourhood involvement helps local authorities find most balanced solution to planning issues. After all, planning law cannot and will not please everyone, but must provide the most suitable solution to development issues taking all parties’ views into account. Localism via neighbourhood schemes seeks to bring all concerns, whether private, public, economic or environmental to the fore. Neighbourhood plans are decided by referendum, illustrating how localism makes planning law more representative. By encouraging further public involvement, neighbourhood planning schemes have made this area of law more democratic. Nevertheless, critics argue that the encouragement of local involvement will be less effective in urban areas than rural areas, where new development often receives more resolute opposition. In addition, some claim that locals’ views will always disfavour development, so will simply lead to councils having to overrule public consensus against development to fulfil the necessity to build new homes. In other words, the increased ease of development provided by the NPPF could be completely undermined by local opponents to development gaining a greater voice via localism. These so-called ‘NIMBYs’ (“Not-In-My-Back-Yard” opponents to development) also put in doubt the suitability of such democratic freedom within planning law – after all, a high degree of consistency between local and neighbourhood development plans must be present, else the system will

fail, which means that local authorities, not residents, need the final say. The government has not intervened appropriately in planning law over recent years. Localism may perhaps add democratic value to the system but, ultimately development issues cannot be won on popular consensus alone. It is a sad but accepted fact that the party with greater economic resources nearly always wins planning disputes due to better access to legal advice and representatives. Thus richer societal cohorts and larger businesses have more power than smaller, less affluent parties, rendering the overall system irreversibly undemocratic. In addition, it is worth noting too, that in terms of planning disputes, it is certainly true to say that one good argument is worth a thousand bad arguments, which makes the system undemocratic. If I and all my neighbours were to object to a new housing estate on our street on the grounds that it would be an eyesore, the local authority would surely sigh to itself and, although development may stall, would rather favour development, so as to meet targets from the plan-led system. However, if one man were to find a colony of Great Crested Newts dwelling in the area proposed for development, the council would be forced into submission. In this respect, contention within planning law is seldom settled by public consensus and weight of support, but rather by quality of argument, and hence, the system itself is not democratic. Thus, localism’s attempts to install democracy within UK planning law are rather futile. Considering all of the above and particularly the criticisms of recent developments in our planning law, the necessary equilibrium between popular involvement and ease of development has not been struck. I would argue that providing residents themselves the power to create or contest development is counter-productive. Would we introduce local referenda for unpopular employment or immigration law? The answer is no, and highlights, at best, a lack of necessity for such an approach, and at worst, double-standards within our legal system. The reality, although hard to take for many, is that we are in an age of housing crisis. Homes must be built. Providing more legal power to the NIMBYs only serves to obstruct development targets. Ultimately, we elect governments and local and national levels whose job it is to settle planning disputes; with the local and national interests at mind, these elected representatives should be allowed to settle such issues independently, without further intervention from the electorate. That’s what we voted them in for, isn’t it? If such unnecessary power-sharing was removed, the streamlining of the planning system within the NPPF would not have been required - the government were forced into this new policy to overcome protectionist localism– so the grievances (i.e. raised by archaeologists) would be nullified. Planning law, in its current state, is a ticking time bomb. Perhaps only the explosive HS2 project will cause it to detonate into necessary amendment?●

The Clarion-Winter 2013

2

Profile for TheClarion

The Clarion  

The Winter 2013 issue of The Clarion - journal of Marling School law society

The Clarion  

The Winter 2013 issue of The Clarion - journal of Marling School law society

Advertisement