New right of appeal would give teeth to planning challenges

Tony Gosling tony at
Fri Sep 10 11:17:12 BST 2010

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New right of appeal would give teeth to planning challenges

A public right of appeal in planning would end 
the costly judicial review process and ensure the delivery of good development

to Protect Rural England (CPRE), 
Law Foundation (ELF), and many other civil 
society organisations strongly support the 
introduction of a limited, fair and manageable 
public right of appeal in planning. Such a right, 
advocated by both the Conservatives and Liberal 
Democrats in the run-up to the 2010 general 
election, can give powerful teeth to David 
Cameron's "big society" and redistribute power to 
both local authorities and local communities. 
Currently the only way for local people to 
challenge bad development that has been granted 
planning permission, is with a judicial review in 
the high court, a difficult and expensive option. 
Conversely, developers enjoy an unlimited right 
to appeal planning decisions at the local level.

Developer interests such as the British Property 
Federation have been quick to defend the status 
quo and say increased public rights are a "recipe 
for a chaos". But the example of Ireland shows 
that such rights play a highly valuable role in delivering good development.

Public rights of appeal have not stopped 
Ireland's recent property boom, involving a 70% 
increase in the rate of new housebuilding between 
1995 and 2001. In 2008, public appeals resulted 
in conditions being altered and planning 
permission granted in 60% of cases. This is 
significantly more than the 39% of public appeals 
that resulted in planning permission being 
refused. In turn, public appeals accounted for 
51% of all appeals lodged, with the balance 
coming from applicants for planning permission against refusal.

There are three significant points about these 
statistics. First, public rights of appeal do not 
stop all development as some claim.

Second, when development is approved after a 
public appeal, public influence over what gets 
built increases. Planning conditions are 
typically used in Ireland, as in England, to 
address perennial problems associated with new 
development such as construction hours, noise levels and road access.

Third, public appeals help bring the wider public 
interest to bear in planning decisions, and not 
just narrow private interests. In recent decades 
there has been a huge growth in the building of 
large "one-off" houses in remote rural areas of 
Ireland. Irish professional bodies and agencies 
have highlighted resulting problems of waste 
disposal, groundwater pollution and increased 
"residualisation" – economic imbalance - leaving 
poorer groups isolated in towns, as well as 
visual damage to the countryside. Since 2005 
Irish government policy has sought to control the 
growth of one-off housing, but the public does 
much to ensure that this is implemented on the 
ground. In 2008 approximately 6% of all appeals 
were against local authority decisions to approve 
inappropriate housing, mostly from members of 
civil society. Some 75% of these appeals succeeded.

The Irish comparison has particular relevance to 
UK government intentions to devolve more power to 
England's local authorities and communities. The 
CPRE welcomes this, and it is important that 
devolution is accompanied by effective safeguards 
against abuse. The Rural Coalition, which 
includes the CPRE, has highlighted recent reduced 
levels of building of affordable housing in rural 
areas. This may be partly attributable to events 
in north Cornwall in the early 1990s, where a 
pattern of damaging development similar to that 
seen in Ireland prompted a government 
investigation. In north Cornwall a prominent 
factor was repeated planning abuses by local 
councillors. The proposed "community right to 
build" aims to deliver the housing needed to keep 
villages alive. But a public right of appeal is 
no less crucial to ensure that increased local 
freedom also means good quality development.

At present, the only recourse for the public 
against poor planning decisions is judicial 
review. The May 2008 Sullivan Report on access to 
environmental justice concluded that the costs 
currently associated with judicial review 
proceedings "inhibit compliance" with the 
requirements of the Aarhus convention, to which 
the UK is a signatory. This convention exists to 
protect public participation in decision-making 
and access to justice in environmental matters.

The appeals system cost £25m in 2007-08 and there 
were 22,897 appeals by developers. The existing 
privileges of developers to appeal any planning 
decision should be limited, especially in cases 
where a local authority has produced a fully up to date local plan.

All appeals, whether from applicants or the 
public, can be dealt with much more efficiently 
in future. The Planning Act 2008 gives planning 
inspectors the power to decide the most efficient 
method of examination. Government estimates show 
that this new power could save £1.2m a year, by 
reducing the number of public hearings associated with more minor appeals.

• Paul Miner is senior planning campaigner with 
CPRE. For more details about how to support the 
introduction of a public right of appeal 
(including writing to your MP) see the 

+44 (0)7786 952037
"Capitalism is institutionalised bribery."

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poison which alienates the possessor from the community" Carl Jung
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