Ahead of a major national conference in Wales, which will provide the latest updates on changing planning policy, Freshwater’s conference division, Waterfront Conference Company, interviewed the Planning Inspectorate’s lead in Wales, and keynote conference speaker, Tony Thickett, to hear his views on the introduction of the Planning (Wales) Act.
The Planning (Wales) Act received royal assent in July this year - what has changed for the Planning Inspectorate (PINS) in Wales with its introduction?
We anticipate that our first application could be in late spring or early summer of 2016 and, arguably, we could get pre-application requests before that, so our first priority is to ensure that we are ready for planning applications for developments of national significance (DNS). We are currently working on having the processes, systems and personnel in place to deal with these applications.
How do you see PINS’ role changing with the new system?
While PINS as a whole has been overseeing planning applications for nationally significant infrastructure projects, which are akin to dealing with planning applications, and it has been dealing with planning applications direct to the Secretary of State for poorly performing local authorities in England, this is not something that has happened in Wales before. For the first time, PINS in Wales will actually be dealing with planning applications.
The role of PINS will change in that it will not be a wholly appellate body, which will mean a shift in the way that proposals are looked at. Our role will be to process applications efficiently within set time scales, and to give Welsh Ministers recommendations on whether planning permission should be granted or not granted, as well as advise on what conditions should be imposed.
What are PINS’ plans for the implementation of the new system?
We have set up a number of working groups within the Inspectorate looking at the different aspects of work that we’ll need to get ready for. That involves looking at what sort of letters we will need to send out, how we will handle pre-application discussions and what sort of IT support we will need to process applications. The more I think about it, the less I sleep!
We have made a good start and we will be able to formalise some measures when we finally get the legislation through. There is a consultation period which has just ended on the procedure for handling DNS. Once that is embedded in and we know exactly what the process is going to be, we can confirm some of our proposals.
Once that legislation is in place, how will you work with developers and applicants and how will you provide them with guidance on the new planning process?
We will be producing a guidance note for all participants in the planning system. It will take them through from beginning to end explaining what our roles is, what our expectations will be from different parties at different points in time, what we will deliver and when we will deliver it. It will use some of our existing guidance on how we run inquiries and hearings and there will be new guidance on pre-application discussions, how we will process applications and so on.
We are hoping to work with Planning Aid Wales to produce a separate leaflet for communities which will give an indication of what their role will be and how they will be able to engage in the planning process.
In addition, I’m speaking at your event in October and I am also going to issue an invite to all local authorities for me to go and speak to them about the planning process, what their role will be in it and how we can work together. I also want to explore meeting some industry representatives to get their side of what they expect from the decision-making process.
The Planning (Wales) Act introduces powers to designate strategic planning areas and to create strategic planning panels, what impact do you think these panels will have on areas in Wales?
It will have an impact on how development planning works. In areas where strategic panels are in place, I envisage a three-tier system. The national development framework will set out national priorities – and this will be relevant to DNS as it may help identify what schemes will be regarded as ‘nationally significant’. This will then inform the strategic level and that will then inform local development plans. Each tier will get down to a more local level.
In areas where strategic plans are in place, local development planning should become simpler as the strategic plan would indicate how many houses are needed in an area and then the local development plan would just identify where these house could be built. The new system should help to streamline the planning process in Wales.
More than 100 developers, planning professionals and Welsh local authorities will gather to hear Tony’s speech where he will be joining other key industry figures, including Tidal Lagoon Swansea Bay’s Alex Herbert, RWE’s Bethan Edwards, Isle of Anglesey County Council’s Gareth Hall and many more, on the speaking panel at the 4th Annual: Major Infrastructure and Renewable Energy Planning in Wales 2015 in Cardiff on October 21st.
Find out more about the event, including how to register at bit.ly/PlanningWales