For years the UK planning system has been criticised for being too complicated and taking too long. The UK planning system is designed to be the process of managing the development of land and buildings. The purpose of this process is to save what is best of our heritage and improve the infrastructure upon which we depend for a civilised existence.
After submitting your application there used to be endless hoops to jump through including public consultations and even full-blown public enquiries. This led to the planning application for Heathrow’s terminal five taking around four years from beginning to consent (1995 – 1999), costing an estimated £80m and involving organised lobbies for and against.
The last Government’s solution to this was to try to take some of the politics out of planning for large and important infrastructure projects such as airports and power stations by setting up the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) which was designed to specifically avoid lengthy and costly planning inquiries.
On 30 June 2010 the new coalition government scrapped the IPC but maintained big projects will still be fast-tracked but that ministers will make the decisions for and against the application. Labour says that the Government is merely scrapping the name and cutting the budget of the IPC and much of the “new single system” that the IPC ushered in has been retained.
En va voire I guess, but the Miles Templeman, Director-General of the Institute of Directors (IoD) said:
“We believe this is the wrong decision and can’t be reconciled with the Government’s ‘open for business’ agenda.”
And the British Chambers of Commerce commented:
“The Commission’s abolition puts politics back into the planning system at a time when an overwhelming majority of businesses say that they want key infrastructure schemes decided by experts, not politicians.”
Another ingredient in the UK planning system is none other than the Heir to the Throne, HRH Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales. The Qatar Royal family – which was behind the re-development of the Chelsea Barracks site into sleek, hi-tech residential towers – announced on 25 June that it was withdrawing its planning application, following personal letters against the plans by Prince Charles which were subsequently revealed by the Courts.
The Prince’s attempt to influence the £3 billion scheme was described by a High Court judge as “unexpected and unwelcome”. Mr Justice Vos said that by urging the site’s Qatari owners to withdraw the planning application, the Prince placed them in an impossible position.
Prince Charles has since claimed he was only doing his duty and giving voice to concerns of locals:
“The Prince of Wales was contacted by local residents who were concerned about the proposed development on the Chelsea Barracks site … They particularly asked whether he might be able to raise the issue with the Qataris.”
I guess, as ever, with human decision making processes money and power does talk and can find ways, legitimately or not (and I leave you to judge in this case whether Prince Charles’ intervention was legitimate or not), the outcome. No doubt other anti-development groups have and will continue to use Prince Charles as a channel and leverage against certain developments. The Prince seems willing to play this role and apparently often writes to Ministers on many public matters. I guess – to avert a revolution a la France – Parliament and the Government will decide if and when he over steps the mark.