It could be good news for communities as the abolition of the IPC (Infrastructure Planning Commission) is announced by DCLG (the Department for Communities and the Local Government). The news comes less than a year after the IPC’s inception and is a manifesto commitment for both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats that has been carried through to the new Coalition.
Previously, major projects with national implications (for example Stansted’s second runway) could take years to get through the planning process, but it did at least allow anyone who wanted to, to take part. The IPC was set up to try and change all of this and had some fairly serious aims, including to:
- simplify what was previously a complex, confusing and costly system;
- pull the plug on what were long and costly public inquiries to determine the balance between impacts and benefits of a proposal;
- ensure a fairer approach, providing better opportunities for the public, consultees and developers to have their views considered;
- apply independent professional and technical judgement;
- reduce the average decision making time taken from 100 weeks to less than a year;
- cut the costs of delivering national infrastructure by £300 million annually
However, it was not met with universal acclaim, with concerns about the lack of ability for local communities and interest groups to get involved in the process. The Coalition’s proposals for change will see decisions currently made by the Commission to be taken instead by Ministers.
We welcome the democratic nature of this new decision-making process, as long as it is fully democratic. But we have been stung before and we remain concerned about the ability of interested parties to be fully represented in the process. Accepting that the timeframe for the determination of large projects must be considerably pruned, more time should be given for public responses – the IPC framework was far too tight to achieve this properly.
Other potential problems with the proposed new system also remain. Assessments will need to be undertaken by someone who fully understands the subject and who will ensure that all aspects of the decision are investigated. If, for example, there are serious impacts on a European-designated nature conservation site then ecologists should be part of the decision-making process. In addition, all implications of the proposal should be considered at the same time – e.g. if an electricity power station is proposed then the powerlines to distribute the electricity should be part of the original submission, not the subject of a separate application.
More changes are afoot which could also mean that local communities have an even stronger voice in local decision-making – there are murmerings of the abolition of Regional Development Agencies (RDAs). A White Paper is due from the Treasury on the fate of RDAs shortly, and we will keep you up to date.
Our WoodWatch campaign can help you understand the UK’s planning systems and take part in local decision-making when it comes to protecting the trees and wooded spaces you care about. We are currently looking for volunteer ‘Threat Detectors’ and ‘Threat Researchers’ to help us identify where woods and trees could be at risk through the planning system – could this be a role for you? Have a look at the details online or contact us for more info.
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