Communities resistent to proposed waste schemes could be encouraged to be more supportive by financial incentives, according to local government minister Bob Neill.
But his claim allowing the local community to benefit financially from developments as a way of moving residents from a resistant to proactive stance was met by scepticism from some in the industry.
Neill was speaking at a seminar on the Localism Bill, hosted by Lawrence Graham lawyers and the PPS Group. He said the bill would strengthen the “duty to co-operate” between councils in producing waste and development plans.
If this does not happen, he said, the inspector could reject a council’s development plan by saying it was “not sound”. He added that the bill should ensure that developers get an earlier “steer” as to whether planning is likely to be approved.
Large infrastructure projects of national significance are already referred to the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC), which requires pre-consultation.
The bill proposes making it statutory to introduce pre-consultation to projects above a certain size but below the IPC threshold. This is likely to apply to most waste and energy-from-waste projects not referred to the IPC.
PPS Group director Rebecca Eatwell said: “Community benefits are becoming commonplace and is now an expectation. We have even seen projects that local people have been opposed to and the local councillor has said ‘well, you may as well get something out of it’.”
Some fear this aspect of the bill presents an opportunity for planners to effectively buy their planning applications. Others say the bill will allow campaigners to drag out decisions and make it easier for them to attack waste and infrastructure schemes through judicial review.
Eatwell said: “There is a lot in the bill that is great in theory, and in practice there will always be those who do not want development, and we need to balance out these. We don’t need to say we have only been successful if we do not have any opposition.”
She warned that consultations must “stand up to scrutiny”, and that the wording had to be right to prevent opponents taking the planning decision to judicial review on the basis of a poor or biased consultation.
LG planning partner Stephen Turnbull said: “Collaboration seems fantastic and let’s hope that it becomes more common, but I don’t see it as a universal panacea. Most local systems affect someone’s backyard and there will always be people with different opinions.”
- During the seminar Neill said that the team working for the IPC – created under the last Labour Government and being abolished next April – would move over to the Planning Inspectorate. All existing projects going through the IPC would automatically be transferred,and the secretary of state would now have the final say.