The Week in Parliament
We’ll be having a fairly short WIP this week. Not because of any particular aversion to work on my part, but because the chambers across the UK have simply not been providing me with the material. I’m raring to go. That being said, I haven’t helped myself by splitting off the near-weekly update on the Internal Market Bill into a separate article to explain where we are in our pursuit of a few more answers. It was not the only thing that happened this week, although with the Commons, the Welsh Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly all in Recess, and nothing of particular note in the Scottish Parliament, we are left to return to our old friends in the Lords.
Outside of the Internal Market Bill, the most interesting point was probably raised in the debate on the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) (Amendment) (No. 2) Order 2020. The motion of regret, brought by Lord German used the negative procedure in the House was used partly to speak against the regulations, but also to object to the whole procedure. The regulations themselves, however, was where the more consultatively interesting debate was to be found.
As many of you will know (and if you don’t just look a bit further up in the newsletter this week!) the Planning for the Future consultation closed yesterday. The controversial consultation, which would represent an overturning of forty years of planning practice in favour of a new system, has drawn much attention. We have submitted our own response to it, which you may well have read about by now. The Government claims that their proposals will speed up and make more efficient the planning process, whilst improving the democratic processes behind planning.
Similarly, these regulations are also proposed as a part of a “speed and efficiency” process. But there is also a different question here. Is the Government running a risk by legislating on something they are also consulting on?
In their defence, even were it to pass smoothly with no objections, we wouldn’t expect the results of the Planning for the Future consultation to come into force for 12 months at an absolute minimum, and they do have a responsibility to maintain the present system.
But there is also an argument that making changes such as these, which whilst not as sweeping as their other proposals might be seen as inappropriately pre-empting the results of that consultation, particularly as the changes in these regulations would seem to be travelling along the same ideological direction as the proposed changes in the White Paper.
This was not the only protest raised in the House. Lord Greaves objected to the fact that the regulations had not been consulted upon, no pilot studies had been run, and there seemed to have been a general lack of engagement with local planning authorities.
The debate will likely not change anything, and the Government is pressing forward with the regulations, but the cynical mind might suggest that they take a more cautious approach. Pre-determination and pre-emption can be fatal to consultations if brought to court, and although we would not expect that to happen here, even if it does not result in a JR, it can cast a shadow and give furtive ground for questions about motives to take root.