Government considers commercial national policy statement

The government will consult on whether a new national policy statement is required to guide decisions on the major commercial applications it intends to add to the fast-track planning process, business minister Michael Fallon has said.

Parliament: Growth and Infrastructure Bill debated yesterday
Parliament: Growth and Infrastructure Bill debated yesterday
Under plans set out in the Growth and Infrastructure Bill, developers planning major business and commercial developments would be able to choose a fast-track route by submitting applications directly to the Planning Inspectorate (PINS) rather than to councils.

The proposal would bring major business and commercial developments into the Planning Act 2008 regime. It currently provides a streamlined, year-long planning process, in which nationally important infrastructure projects, such as major new road schemes, new railway lines and large waste and energy developments, are examined by PINS but determined by the relevant secretary of state.

Fallon told MPs yesterday during a debate on the Bill that the government would consult on the types of commercial development that it intends to bring into the major infrastructure regime and "on whether a new national policy statement should be put in place".  

National policy statements provide the framework within which inspectors make their recommendations to the relevant secretary of state.

Earlier during the debate, MPs had pressed communities secretary Eric Pickles for clarification on whether the government would draw up a national policy statement for commercial development. He said: "There are obviously national policy statements - full stop. In addition, we are consulting on where these should bite in."

Speaking last month during a meeting of the communities and local government select committee, planning minister Nick Boles had said that there would not be a national policy statement on the issue.

He told the committee in October: "I do not believe there will be a national policy statement; we do not need to do that, but there will be a clear set of criteria about which commercial developments will be counted as major infrastructure."

He added: "The question is: how would you go about doing a national policy statement for all commercial and business activity?"

Speaking during yesterday’s debate, Fallon also said that councils have "nothing to fear" from proposals in the Bill to allow planning applications to be made directly to PINS if councils have a poor track record in the speed of decisions or the proportion of applications overturned on appeal.

He said: "Only a small minority of councils need to raise their game. We are not ... speaking of a massive number of councils. It is a small minority who need to raise their game if we are to ensure their local areas do not lose out in the recovery that is now under way.

"If Coventry can increase the percentage of all its applications that are determined within 13 weeks from 54 per cent to 98 per cent, and if Surrey Heath can increase its percentage from 42 per cent to 100 per cent, then any council can."

Earlier during the debate, Pickles described the London Borough of Hackney as the "worst" planning authority in England.

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