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Planning system in Wales will suffer if third parties get appeal rights

Third party rights to appeal in the Planning (Wales) Bill would see major development proposals grind to a halt, warns lead director Chris Sutton

CARDIFF, April 28 2015 – The Planning (Wales) Bill is currently being considered by the National Assembly and should receive Royal Assent later this year.

Chris SuttonThis Bill sets out to improve both the development plan system and development management process.  However, our ability to deal with major development proposals could grind to a halt if the National Assembly for Wales votes to agree an amendment to introduce third party rights of appeal.  After reflecting upon the latest amendment put forward for consideration, this is a view shared by many within the business community.  

On 5th May 2015, Assembly Members will vote to accept or reject this particularly controversial amendment to Wales’ first Planning Act.

The views of industry strongly reflect the findings of the Independent Advisory Group, chaired by John Davies the former Head of the Planning Inspectorate in Wales.  I was pleased to represent CBI Wales on this panel, alongside members from other groups including, The Law Society, RSPB and Planning Aid Wales.
After taking evidence from a broad cross-section of interests, the Advisory Group concluded that third party rights of appeal would risk over-burdening the system and would shift resources away from decision and plan making.  Delay would be unavoidable as there would need to be a period, after the grant of permission, to allow a third party to lodge an appeal.  This would increase cost and, therefore, dis-incentivise investment.  Additional costs would be inevitable and, potentially, very high not only for the proposed developer but also for local and central Government. 

Moreover, the Advisory Group highlighted that such a right would not help those people that are, typically, excluded from the planning process.  Third party rights exploited by reactionary local interests simply will not deliver the new homes and employment opportunities that we all benefit from.  Major development proposals would run the risk of abuse by vexatious complainants and the Advisory Group unanimously concluded that third party rights of appeal should not be introduced in Wales.

The criteria for third party appeal is set out in the amendment are by no means limited.  The proposal allows for a single person to appeal applications in six categories.

Rather than addressing an alleged democratic deficit, third party rights of appeal will result in more decisions being made at a national level by Welsh Government as opposed to Local Planning Authorities.

However, the involvement of communities in the decision making process is one of the fundamental principles of our planning system and the Planning Bill sets out to achieve this in far smarter ways than those proposed.  The Planning Bill will ensure rigorous public debate at plan making and decision making stages together with a statutory consultation and participation process at each and every stage.  In addition, the Planning (Wales) Bill seeks to introduce compulsory pre-application consultation on major applications.

The business community does not object to proper and meaningful participation in the planning process however this should be intended to inform and shape proposals rather than be a means to stifle development. 

The planning system plays a crucial role in facilitating new investment, whether this is through ‘one off’ schemes by employers looking to expand in Wales or the wider development industry, such as house building, that engage with the system on a regular basis.

The development industry plays a vital role in our economy.  Research, undertaken by Nathaniel Lichfield & Partners, states that the house building industry alone is worth £481 million per annum to the Welsh economy and employs over 13,400 people. 

When this Bill was launched, Welsh Government suggested that this would “enable communities to benefit from a streamlined system which will support the delivery of the homes, jobs and infrastructure that Wales requires”. 

A third party right of appeal would result in quite the opposite outlook for our nation.

An efficient planning system is central to delivering an economic growth agenda. In order to attract and retain investment Wales needs to create a planning system which is 10% more attractive, in terms of speed and simplicity, than our English neighbours. 
Wales stands at a cross roads, how we implement this Bill will determine whether the planning system becomes a national asset or a structural disincentive for growth in Wales. 

​JLL is pleased to note that the amendment was discussed by the National Assembly for Wales at the Stage 3 final hearing of the draft Planning (Wales) Bill on 5th May. Following a long debate, in which reference to our representation against this measure was made, the amendment was not passed.