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Planning for success

Viewpoint - The new look government will be taking on a new look planning strategy but first needs to address several pressing issues.

The recently published Planning White Paper adopted a consultative style. The risk, of course, is that this consultation and the response to it falls foul of the very paralysis in decisionmaking that the paper is seeking to address.

Alternatively, those with a legal eye may well question the extent to which the White Paper is now already a material consideration in planning decisions and hence we might well see demands for greater clarity on the national policy framework almost immediately.

A lot would appear to hang on the 'national policy statements'.

Precisely what form these take will be a crucial factor in inuencing the extent to which we can move to a situation of being able to take strategic decisions on infrastructure in advance of local inquiries on the detail.

From a transport perspective, to achieve the intended aims of revising the planning system, the government needs to address the following: What we mean by 'key national transport projects'.

Some thresholds are suggested in the White Paper but very few major infrastructure proposals have a genuinely national, rather than a local, impact.

Establishing the need for infrastructure investment to give more capacity in a particular corridor must take account of the commitment to other policies. This is best illustrated by road-user charging (RUC). The need for more road capacity on an inter-urban corridor will vary with and without RUC, but also by the scale, form and geographic coverage of charges. It is hard to see how a policy statement covering new road capacity can be defended without a level of clarity on RUC far beyond that provided by the government to date.

How regional and local planning bodies will be expected to take account of relevant national policy. It is not fundamental differences in objectives but more the emphases placed on these objectives and how they might be achieved that leads to tension between local and national levels of decision-making.

Requiring local bodies to take responsibility for the detailed considerations on infrastructure proposals might lead to the outturn scheme and benets being very different from those envisaged on entry into a national policy statement.

How we make national policy statements authoritative. If there is a presumption of approval for schemes of national signicance where their aims and benets are consistent with the national policy statement, it is going to be essential that these stand up to scrutiny and that we don't end up with a spate of time-consuming judicial reviews.

Finally, care will need to be taken to avoid the proposed changes hindering rather than enhancing the strengthening of political leadership. Tempting as it might seem to some ministers, we need to avoid reaching the point where decisions on infrastructure investment are just too difficult.

If we do, then democratically elected leaders may abdicate responsibility to an 'independent infrastructure planning commission' and then the devil in the detail being passed to regional and local bodies.

Andy Southern is managing director of transport planning at Atkins.

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