It's just a few weeks since Government published their National Planning Policy. Local Planning Authorities are still taking stock. Developers are waiting to find out what the upshot is likely to be on the ground.
Are the planning barristers still rubbing their hands with glee? Has the scrapping of hundreds of pages of national policy really freed up our planning system and heralded a new era of localism?
I'm not so sure that it has.
The first thing to realise is that our planning system is a big ship to turn Unlike any other form of statutory legislation, planning has always relied very heavily on local policies. The local plan remains the most important document on the table. These local plans are different in each authority, they take a long time to produce and once published they have a shelf life of 10 to 15 years.
No amount of national posturing is going to change these leviathans in short order.
Before NPPF all these plans based their policies on PPS's, the old and now defunct national planning policies. After NPPF, the local plans still base their policies on the old PPS's. Nothing has changed.
Over time, maybe say the next five years, new and revised local plans will come out which will tweak these old policies. But I'm pessimistic that cash strapped authorities will have the capacity to rethink many of them from first principles.
Some of the old PPS's still provide the meat to the bones of the new national policies.
For example, there used to be a whole national policy document devoted to town centres. It brought in the concept of sequential testing, i.e. that retail development should be located as close to the town centre as possible. The policy went into great detail to describe how this concept should be used to assess applications. The new national policy says the same sort of thing, but collapses the whole, quite complex process, into a few short sentences.
We all know what sequential testing is now. An industry of consultants has grown up who can run this test.
So even though the PPS has been scrapped, the details of its policy and it's effect on the consideration of a retail planning application still stands.
Woe betide any local authority that decided to throw out that old policy document last month when government announced that all the old policies were withdrawn. The methodology PPS established still looks as if it's going to endure for a long time yet.
But, I hear you cry, I thought this was all about local authorities making up their own minds. It's true that a local authority could decide to go it alone and redefine the process for a sequential test. Now here is where I can see the planning barristers rubbing their hands with glee. Most local authorities just don't have the will to change the goalposts.
However I do see some of the big retailers might get very interested in pushing boundaries on these types of issues. They have the money, and the incentive, to try to find gaps between local and national policies. These gaps might just allow that cheap, out of centre site, to be re-born as the perfect location for shopping.
The PPS is dead - long live the PPS!
In my next blog, I shall look at the whole question of the relationship between local plans and neighbourhood plans.