The Government is currently consulting on fundamental changes to the planning system in England known as “Planning for the Future”. We’ve done a briefing paper with our friends at the planning consultancy Adams Hendry (which you can see here https://tinyurl.com/y2mzqcqu). Whilst the scope of the changes is disappointing and some of the proposals are worrying, some of the principles should/could be supportive for responsible port estate development – but only if the Government’s approach improves and ports themselves engage both locally and nationally.
A direction of travel towards seismic change
The Government has recently published for consultation the White Paper “Planning for the Future”. The White Paper is a wide ranging and extensive document which sets out major potential reforms and changes to the planning system in England. For example, taken at its most literal the whole of England would be split into just three categories with some fairly sweeping ‘in principle’ approval stances in the ‘Growth’ category. Responses to the consultation need to be in by the 29th October 2020.
The consultation document presents a ‘direction of travel’ rather than the detail of what any new planning system will be – this will come in future policy documents and legislation. But even at this point there is enough here to suggest areas where ports will need to keep a close eye on if they are not to be on the wrong side of some troubling momentum.
There’s more to planning than housing and ‘local’
We all need somewhere to live. But a lot of people also need to earn a living – or rely on someone who does. You would be forgiven for not realising that from reading the ‘Planning for Future’ consultation document. The focus is overwhelmingly on housing. Even the chapter titled ‘infrastructure’ is mostly about housing focused developer contribution changes.
Also, local plans have an important role to play and appropriate community democratic accountability is required. But ports, as global gateways for 95% of goods entering or leaving the country, are probably a case in point of where the planning considerations have to be wider than just the ‘local’ if key considerations such as the health of the broad economy and freight connectivity are to be appropriately weighted.
Taken together the heavy emphasis on housing and the minimal consideration of economic activity, the much greater and more significant role for Local Plans and the withdrawal of the ‘Duty to Cooperate’ within the plan making process must be causes for concern. The overall risk is that economic activity, particularly that with a national or regional role greater than just a local role, will not have sufficient recognition within a new streamlined, housing focused approach.
Some reasons to be (a bit) more positive
There are also, however, potential positives for ports. An approach that seeks to frontload information gathering and consideration to enable a more streamlined approvals process for developments is a positive step forward. It is one which has proved productive to port operators through stimulating investment and faster job creation through DCO and LDO mechanisms.
What ports should be thinking about – collectively and individually
Although we’re still at the ‘direction of travel’ stage, and the voyage for that travel will be a fairly long and detailed one, getting it wrong early on sets a course that risks being difficult (or, even at best, time and resource consuming) to bear away from. That is true both at the policy level but also locally for individual ports.
There are clearly important policy improvements that ports and indeed other infrastructure and logistics sectors need to engage with Government on. There must be more recognition of economic activity and considerations above the purely local level. Just as one example, the inter-relationship between Local Plans and National Policy Statements must be much clearer and its essential that core strategic objectives have the appropriate weighting in local decision making.
At a port level, to capture the opportunities and get the appropriate recognition of port and related activities contained within increasingly important Local Plans, port operators will need to meaningfully engage from the earliest stages of Local Plan formation and redouble their efforts on ongoing stakeholder engagement to ensure their strong story is clearly and widely understood.
For more information please contact:
Chief Executive, UK Major Ports Group
Director, Adams Hendry Consulting