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Legislation Affecting Planning In The Uk

UK planning law is a body of regulations that anyone who intends to build, modify, or develop property in the country will have to deal with. While the intricacies of the laws governing planning are extremely complicated, the following overview should prove to be enlightening.

The Goal Of Planning Permission

For more than 60 years -- since the adoption of the Town and Country Planning Act of 1947 -- the objective of the planning system has been to see that no land is built on, renovated, or developed without the approval of a qualified local planning authority. This planning authority or LPA usually takes the form of a borough, district, or city council.

Why would the government take on this challenging task? The goal of planning regulation has always been to balance the rights of the landowner against the needs of the community. Ideally, the system should provide much-needed regulatory oversight without compromising the development process. In practice, the system has shown itself to be somewhat flawed, mostly through an excess of bureaucracy that makes it difficult for landowners -- especially homeowners -- to secure planning permission.

How Permissions Are Secured

Planning permissions are issued in two tiers: A full permission and an outline permission. Both require the submission of accurate planning application maps in order for the project to be considered. As their names suggest, full permissions are complete authorizations to proceed with development while outline permissions are granted to proposals where the final design of the work to be done has not been finalized.

Most full planning permissions are subject to conditions. These are formal agreements between the developer and the LPA that the developer must meet in order to proceed. Conditions cover a wide range of issues from the appearance of new buildings to the noise generated by industrial works. Conditions are intended to make a development more amenable to the applicable regulations of the community; they are not supposed to be employed as a "quid pro quo" measure to make unpopular developments more palatable.

Complications To The Current System

As noted above, the performance of the current planning system leaves much to be desired, especially in terms of its swiftness. While steps have been taken to modernize many aspects of the planning process -- most submission and publication of planning documents occurs online now -- certain fundamental problems hold the LPAs back.

Given their mandate to address all proposed development of any scale, most LPAs are sorely pressed to meet their obligations with their limited resources. The last piece of legislation to alter planning significantly was the Localism Act of 2011. This abolished many regional planning bodies but also introduced planning oversight responsibilities to many authorities that had not previously exercised it.

The planning process in the UK is further complicated by sustainability concerns. All projects require a sustainability appraisal which includes a strategic environmental assessment. The SEA process satisfies several crucial EU regulatory requirements, but the way sustainability is handled varies widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

In the UK, the planning process has evolved slowly over time to reflect the changing needs and interests of both government planners and private developers. While the current state of planning law is far from ideal, the possibility of improvement in the future is always open.


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