ECONOMIC ASPECTS OF PLANNING DECISIONS

Introduced by Mike Devereux, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of the Built Environment, University of the West of England, Bristol, on 28 October 1999

As well as lecturing on the subject, the speaker takes part in planning appeals as an adviser. Currently, he is working with Caroline Jackson MEP on a six-country international structure plan covering matters like international airports, road links and regional priorities.

Land use planning was introduced in late-Victorian times as a result of the occurrence of slum properties and the concomitant disease. In Edwardian times, towns began to expand along main roads leading to Ribbon Development Acts being introduced to conserve farmland for food production. In 1947 the Town & Country Planning Act in effect nationalised land and the right to develop it was controlled. This act also directed the location of industry and commerce away from SE England, but there was no overall national land-use plan; employment was the criteria.

The planning system has developed with concerns about social and environmental needs, particularly housing and protection of the countryside, taking priority rather than economic considerations. The professionals working in planning departments were almost entirely social science-trained, not economists. A major publication written to mark 50 years of the effect of the 1947 Act included no separate study of the economic consequences of it.

In Europe, every country has a national plan, some very detailed defining the construction of each house. If an application is in accordance with this plan it is automatically approved. In the UK, local authorities produce Structure Plans and Local Plans after public consultation and debate, and these are coordinated by a series of Government guidelines (Planning Policy Guidance Notes, PPG) of which there are 30 on general subjects such as Town Centres, the Green Belt and Industrial and Commercial Development. This results in a patchwork of small areas each interpreting the guidance in their own way. Large organisations can affect this interpretation more than small businesses and private persons. The other disadvantage is that getting planning permission can take a long time — years for a large development, eg. Southgate or Western Riverside.

Since 1947 there has been some linking with economic development and the introduction of special policies, such as New Town Development Agencies, Enterprise Zones and Inner Cities Initiatives, but no general national policy.

In the discussion there was speculation about the new Regional Development Agencies. It seemed likely that, as in the past, grants and variable taxation would be the means for bringing about economic expansion. However, the European Commission have regional funds which are granted direct to regions, rather than through national Governments, and this might affect the situation.

Particular topics of interest were raised — `planning gain', rules for change of use, (which are being relaxed in some cases), and third party appeals in applications, which are not generally accepted since the public is considered to be the third party whose interest is paramount.

In summing up, it was thought that European practice might become more influential and that there was less willingness to allow appellants and Inspectors to `interpret' planning guidelines favourably.

Rodney Tye