Architects' Journal 18/01/2007 By Brian Waters
Brian Waters is principal of the Boisot Waters Cohen Partnership, see www.bwcp.co.uk
'Was there anything genuinely new in what (Barker) recommended to Gordon Brown?' asked the AJ upon the Barker Report's release last month (AJ 07.12.06). Many feel we've heard it all before - simplifying and speeding up planning. Yet I beg to differ. This one is different and it's because of the politics. Kate Barker is an economist commissioned by HM Treasury. The report is not the child of the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) and it contains proposals which will render oor-loads of DCLG staff redundant if implemented: halving the number of call-ins, cutting the length of PPS guidance and introducing an independent National Planning Commission.
The collective response to this is one of dismay but, as I say, only if implemented. And what is the chance of that? First, a planning white paper will have to be produced in the spring, written, at least in part, by the Cabinet Office. Among Brown's headline-grabbing proposals will be the new national Planning Commission; a presumption in favour of development where plans do not justify refusal, and a review of green-belt boundaries to allow more 'sustainable development'. As important as these might be, it is at day-to-day level that Barker may ring major changes.
More change as we struggle with the Planning Act may seem galling. However, the new Act may carry the seeds of its own demise. It is clearly not working to achieve speed and simplification, and political patience has run out. Bad stuff is about to hit us: new complex validation procedures for planning applications and an allegedly standard national application form.
Better, the recent report on the Householder Development Consents Review (HDCR) (AJ 12.10.06) is being taken forward with urgency, and this brings us closer to our day jobs as architects.
The new General Development Procurement Order (GDPO) is already in hand, though whether it succeeds in avoiding complex dimensional calculations has yet to be seen. Barker is in favour of Local Development Orders allowing planning authorities to continue to relax control over development, and suggests that there is scope for neighbours to 'do deals' between each other to expedite householder development. Many have criticised this suggestion, and the Association of Consultant Architects (ACA) has produced a better proposal (see opposite).
The ACA believes its proposals will make the planning system positive, not negative; release scarce skills and resources; and inject some vision into planning. As a co-author, I concur!
I also consider that the enhanced role for architects in operating this new development-control system will benefit clients, communities and the profession alike (with fewer than half of all planning applications currently being made by architects) and help raise the importance of design for every scale of development.
Consultations on the Barker Report are under way and will feed into the white paper, so make your mark: email barker. review@hm-treasury. gov. uk by 5 March.
Brian Waters is principal of the Boisot Waters Cohen Partnership.
See www. bwcp. co. uk
ACA GREEN PAPER RECOMMENDATIONS
Big things like airports and nuclear power stations are for government white papers and Parliament to decide, while government policy dictates regional things like motorways, housing allocations and national parks;
mayors and local planning authorities make plans and determine locally strategic developments such as major sports stadia, transport interchanges, land releases for housing, green-belt developments and new centres;
the GPDO is rewritten as suggested by the HDCR to determine development rights only on the basis of measurable impacts - supported by 'deemed-to-satisfy' guidance - and the Use Classes Order is simplified by focusing on impacts rather than specific uses; development proposals comply with the new-style strategic plans and compliance is certified by 'approved agents' who, as with building control, can be officers of local authorities or professionals, but are appointed and paid by applicants. If a proposal does not comply, an application is made to the local planning authority for determination. Their decision may be appealed and determined by the Planning Inspectorate as now;
three levels of proposal may be considered: outline, full, and approved for construction. Outline and full will generally be subject to conditions which may call for the approval of reserved matters in the subsequent stage(s). Full applications will be able to deal with sustainability issues in principle - performance specifications - but not in detail. Local development plans cannot duplicate matters covered by other legislation (public health, access regulations, building regulations, etc. ), except where special local conditions apply. Approved for construction proposals will have to satisfy both planning and building regulations requirements, on a 'deemed-to-satisfy' basis which will rely on clear guidance with the option of a determination or appeal in exceptional cases (as now for Building Regulations approvals);
only strategic decisions and clearly non-compliant applications need be considered by elected members, all others being delegated to officers or agents. Planning resources are focused on planmaking and keeping adopted policies up-to-date;
approved agents assess the impacts of proposals and only where these affect other owners are they obliged to follow a consultation procedure, which is modelled on the Party Wall Act (including provision for a 'third surveyor'). No such agreement may override a clear plan policy. Agents deal with planning compliance, building/environmental regulations and party walls in an integrated way, with specialist input as necessary for matters like engineering, traffic impacts and biodiversity; and approved agents certify completion of developments in compliance with certified proposals. Architects and other qualified professionals may self-certify compliance (as they, in effect, do today), but owners are obliged to notify the Land Registry once development is complete, and attach specified information to their title deeds.