Tuesday 11 March 2014

New Planning Guidance - Not So Clear

Although I have been a big advocate of Lord Taylor's rationalisation of planning guidance the recently published online portal is by no means easy to navigate for specific development topics. And in particular tourism and rural development, where I tend to do a great deal of work.

Tucked away under the heading "Ensuring the Vitality of Town Centres"[!] is the following;

Paragraph: 007 Reference ID: 2b-007-20140306

What should local planning authorities consider when planning for tourism?

Please see here for the World Tourism Organisation’s definition of tourism.
Tourism is extremely diverse and covers all activities of visitors . Local planning authorities, where appropriate, should articulate a vision for tourism in the Local Plan, including identifying optimal locations for tourism. When planning for tourism, local planning authorities should:
  • consider the specific needs of the tourist industry, including particular locational or operational requirements;
  • engage with representatives of the tourism industry;
  • examine the broader social, economic, and environmental impacts of tourism;
  • analyse the opportunities for tourism to support local services, vibrancy and enhance the built environment; and
  • have regard to non-planning guidance produced by other Government Departments.
Local planning authorities may also want to consider guidance and best practice produced by the tourism sector. Further guidance on tourism can be found on the Visit England website.

Given that we have had a perfectly useful Good Practice Guide since 2006 (now of course revoked), that was designed specifically to cope with the diverse locational, developmental and land use aspects of Tourism in both town and country, this oblique paragraph is a bit of a let down. All the really useful guidance has been lost entirely. How can this be a good thing? Rationalise yes, but brevity is not always a helpful response. Certainly not in the planning world anyway.

Firstly, why is the only reference to tourism development tucked away in a section on town centres? Yes tourism does happen in towns, but just as much, probably more, in the countryside. 'Tourism' is distinct from 'leisure'. 

And as for guidance on development in the countryside? - there isn't any. Where did all that helpful stuff in PPS7 go? Was it really that useless?

The NPPF makes provision for development in both town and country, so presumably we have to read between the two, allocating preference to guidance as necessary. 

But if that's how it works, why bother to slavishly repeat the NPPF text in the new guidance? It's just duplication. Does the new guidance therefore supercede the NPPF? I rather think this is how it will be viewed. The NPPF setting the policy and the new guidance qualifying and detailing it. I have been around the online houses seeking guidance on this aspect of the guidance (ho hum), but have drawn a blank so far.

Being such a new set of guidance the jury is still out and will doubtless only be determined after time consuming and costly appeals. However, I'm not a big believer in 'less is more' in all cases and I do hope this is not all going to come back to haunt us as clearer guidance becomes necessary in the future.


Sunday 2 February 2014

Environment Agency Start Charging for Advice

A letter from the EA recently dropped on the mat informing me that from the 3rd February 2014 they would be seeking to charge for advice.
The letter notes;

We are introducing a charge for planning advice across the whole of England. This service is being launched at different times across the country and in Anglian Region we will begin charging for advice to developers and their consultants from 3 February 2014. A map showing the area we cover is attached. [see below]

You will still receive a free service in the form of a preliminary opinion. As part of this preliminary opinion we will outline our position and highlight any environmental issues we may be concerned about as a statutory consultee. You can then receive further bespoke advice, if required, at a chargeable rate. This could include the review of technical documents, meetings or site visits. As part of this chargeable service, a project manager from the Environment Agency will act as a single point of contact, co-ordinating the chargeable service for each customer.

Once the terms of reference are agreed, our finance service centre will invoice each quarter. Our charges will be £84 per hour and we do not charge VAT. These charges will apply for all new and ongoing discussions from 3 February 2014.

In the light of recent events, and the continuing cutbacks in Government public expenditure, it is perhaps inevitable that such actions are being rolled out. 

Still, it does make you wonder whether any advice you might receive from a paid for consultation can be relied upon - or will the inevitable caveats that planning departments tack onto their advice be applied in the same way? 

I have always found EA engineers to be pragmatic and practical in their approach to development proposals and I do hope that fee charging (and its attendant professional liabilities) will not diminish their approach in the future.