New Coalition abolishes Infrastructure Planning Commission after less than a year of operation

28 May 2010 by

The Infrastructure Planning Commission (“IPC”) is to be one of the first fatalities of the new coalition government. What impact will another change to the controversial system have on the fairness of planning decisions?

In a letter on 24 May 2010, the head of the IPC, Sir Michael Pitt, has confirmed the government is planning to scrap the organisation as a part of a wider overhaul planning powers in the Department for Communities and Local Government.

The IPC was set up as part of a number of planning reforms under the Planning Act 2008. The goal of the IPC is described on the website as “making the application process for nationally significant infrastructure projects faster, fairer and easier for people to get involved in”. Whether the IPC was achieving this goal is hard to say, as the body only began operation on 1 October 2009, and only began to receive applications on 1 March 2010.

However, ever since the IPC was first mooted in the Planning Bill, it has always been controversial. Of particular concern was the unelected nature of the committee, the lack of scope for genuine consultation, and the very narrow scope to appeal decisions at any stage of the planning process. All these could have been constituent elements in a due process challenge to the procedure, based on Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

So what will replace the IPC? In his letter, Sir Michael described how the new government intended to bring forward primary legislation which introduce a ‘Major Infrastructure Unit’, which will be similarly committed to “fairer, faster decision making”.

This will form part of a revised CLG structure that includes the Planning Inspectorate. Under the new system the final decisions on nationally important infrastructure would be made by the Secretary of State. It is expected that the new measures will be introduced later this year in a Devolution and Local Government Bill, and are likely to become law in 2011.

Another upheaval to the already complex planning system will not be welcomed by many developers. Whether the new plans provide better protection to environmental and local community concerns is currently unclear, and will only be revealed with the detail of the new plans. However, whatever changes are made, it will remain a serious challenge for the new government to ensure that any system is both fast and at the same time fair to all involved.

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