A General Election? What does this mean for the Planning System?

Planning in the General Election

With the recent turmoil in Parliament, it is clear that there is a General Election inevitably on the horizon and irrespective of one’s Political views, the General Election will have some impact on the planning process.

Planning is inevitably a political process to some degree and as a practitioner I thought it useful to highlight what the main impacts might be.

In terms of guidance, helpfully both the Local Government Association and the Planning Inspectorate publish guidance on such matters making it clear that any planning decisions during the Election process, or any planning actions, is something that should be handled carefully. The starting point for their collective concerns is Section 2 of the 1986 Local Government Act (as amended in 1988). This states that one of the responsibilities of an Authority during an Election period is:

“not to publish any material which in whole or in part appears to be designed to affect the public support for a Political Party”.

It’s clear from this that the LGA guidance seeks to keep politics out of planning. There is an expectation that any Council will continue to make planning decisions during the purdah period (begins six weeks before the scheduled election), but expressly advises against launching consultations during a purdah period and advises Officers to think “carefully” on the matter.

Turning to the Planning Inspectorate, its statement is clear, politically sensitive decisions are going to be withheld until after an Election. This is inevitable because of the sensitivity of some Applications which end up at Appeal.

From a Developer prospective what does the prospect of a General Election mean?

From experience, where there has been a change of political administration at District Council level, the new administration can and does ask very serious questions about whether previous administration’s Local Plan should proceed to Examination.

A good example of how the turmoil of the change in political administration can wreak havoc on a Local Plan is provided by South Oxfordshire District Council which is now Liberal Democrat controlled. Its Local Plan process has been paralyzed for a couple of months as Members deliberate potentially withdrawing and restarting the Local Plan, much to the alarm of neighbouring Oxfordshire Authorities.

From a Development Control perspective, it’s clear that whilst Authorities are required to continue to make decisions on the Plan, these will be inevitably slowed down by election decisions.

Furthermore, we would also strongly recommend that attention is paid to each Party’s election manifestos in terms of whether any potential Liberal Democrat or Labour Administration would look to make significant amendments to the planning process at the moment which is currently framed by a Conservative Government.

For example, any Labour Government has made it clear that the rights currently enjoyed under the General Permitted Development Order for Change of Use from office to residential or from agricultural to residential are likely to be severely curtailed or indeed withdrawn.