Posted by: Adam Roake | January 11, 2009

Town and Country Planning – Why is it so slow?

Why do we have one area of public law where the law makers and the enforcement authority are one and the same?  In Planning Law that is what happens – at least at local level.  Local Councillors make planning policy and then they decide whether planning applications meet that policy.  If they decide the application doesn’t meet policy, the applicant can appeal to the Secretary of State, whose crack team of Planning Inspectors then review the Councillor’s decision.  Across the board, the Planning Inspectorate allows one in three appeals – in other words, the Councillor’s wrongly interpret their own policies on one in three occasions.  Personally I have won about 80% of the appeals I have worked on over the last ten years – so four times out of five my planning applications get refused even though they meet the policies devised by the very Councillors who refuse my applications.  Could it be that even though applications are supposed to be judged against the policies the Councillors have taken several years to get adopted, they aren’t the most important driver when Councillors actually decide planning applications? 

Most councillors are elected by getting about 1,000 people to vote for them and many have a majority of less than a hundred.  So if they take a decision which will make twenty of their electorate vote for the other guy next time, they will lose their job.  No wonder then that when local people don’t want new homes near them, their councillor feels obliged to refuse a planning application, even though it meets the policies they were elected to implement!

In other branches of the law, there is a clear distinction between the policy makers and those who enforce those policies.  Parliament make laws and the judiciary and police enforce them – any meddling by one arm of the constitution in business of the other is met with public outrage.  Why can’t we have a planning system with a similar separation?



  1. Personally, I would like to the the planning process become more pro-active, utilising the public sectors ability to bring agencies together to promote the kind of development they seek in policy.

    At present it can be reactive and negative or, in areas of low growth, reactive but limited in scope – particularly with regard to quality.

    The impact of the Sub-national Review of the RDAs, pushing the responsibility for delivery to Local Authorities may stimulate this but private sector, thrid sector and Local Authorities are going to have to elarn some new approaches in order to secure the funding from the RDAs.

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