Aside from the announcement of Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet, the biggest news in the property and planning world this week has been Planning Minister Brandon Lewis’s launch of a new panel of experts in an attempt to speed up Local Plan making.
The eight strong panel includes representatives from a variety of stakeholders:
•Chair: John Rhodes of planning consultants Quod
•Adrian Penfold from developers British Land
•Richard Harwood QC from legal firm 39 Essex Chambers
•Councillor Toby Elliott from Swindon Borough Council
•Keith Holland, a retired Senior Planning Inspector
•Liz Peace, formerly of the British Property Federation
•John Howell MP, member for Henley
•Derek Stebbing, Local Authority Plans Manager for Chelmsford City Council
Since 2010, 82% of Local Authorities have published Local Plans, however only two thirds of these have actually been adopted. The panel will consider how the Local Plan making process can be simplified with the aim of slashing the amount of time it takes for local authorities to get plans in place.
It is intended that this will provide greater certainty to communities regarding plans for new homes and infrastructure in their area, while speeding up the planning process so developers can get on site quicker – the deadline for all Local Authorities to have adopted Local Plans is early 2017.
What results are this panel likely to achieve though? The announcement has been met by mixed responses, and indeed our initial thoughts are that there are no community or environment representatives, which could result in the creation of Local Plans which do not meet community needs, and are subsequently not sustainable in the long term. Shaun Spiers of the Campaign for Protection of the Rural Environment echoes these concerns.
Melanie Leech of the British Property Federation welcomes the introduction of the panel, but “would like to see the group think more broadly than the provisions laid out in the Productivity Plan, and to make sure that it is possible for local authorities to produce simple, straightforward plans that are conducive to the speedy delivery of new homes and places”.
Overall, any mechanism designed to better co-ordinate our national planning system should be welcomed, as budget cuts are increasingly putting pressure on our local authorities. However, we must remember that a system designed to safe guard our environment, communities and lifestyles is perhaps not one that should be considered worthy of a ‘quick fix’.
On a more light-hearted note, the unlikely potential for powering communities using coffee beans seems to have become a reality. Bio-bean, a London-based start-up collects used coffee grounds from more than 100 cafes, and turns them into pellets to be burnt in biomass boilers to produce energy. I knew there was a valid reason that I drink six cups of coffee a day after all!