• Two-thirds of councillors unaware of rule change

    8th March 2013 | News | Claire
  • Almost two-thirds of councillors do not understand new rules introduced last year that make it clear that it is proper for councillors to play an active part in local discussions, and that they should not be liable to legal challenge as a result.

    The study, commissioned by consultancy Development Intelligence, found that 66 per cent of local politicians do not realise that since January 2012 they can say what they want about any planning application at any stage without in any way “fettering their discretion”.

    Provisions in the Localism Act, which came into force in January 2012, clarified the rules on predetermination.

    According to the government, predetermination rules were intended to ensure that councillors came to council discussions – on, for example, planning applications – with an open mind. But the government says that the rules had in practice seen councillors warned off doing such things as campaigning, talking with constituents, or publicly expressing views on local issues, for fear of being accused of bias or facing legal challenge.

    The Localism Act makes it clear that it is proper for councillors to play an active part in local discussions, and that they should not be liable to legal challenge as a result.

    The study, published today, found that a third of councillors wrongly believe they should not speak to developers before a planning committee decision. But 69 per cent were happy to meet with those opposed to development, the survey said.

    According to the survey, one in two councillors believe the National Planning Policy Framework will cause more harm than good.

    Meanwhile, 57 per cent of the public believe the reforms have had no difference to their ability to have a say on local planning issues, while 21 per cent of respondents said they now have less influence.

    The survey uncovered a strong sense of nimbyism running throughout the population, a majority of which is not making the link between development and new job creation — despite employment being high on the list of people’s concerns.

    The study found that 87 per cent of the population is nimby — those who say that their neighbourhood is overdeveloped. Almost three-quarters (74 per cent) of the elected councillors surveyed said they were nimby.

    “The results are profoundly worrying for the Government,” said Nick Keable, chief executive of Development Intelligence.

    “Never has the country come out of a recession without development playing a major role in the economic recovery, but this survey shows that people don’t want any more.”

    Stuart Robinson, head of UK planning at property firm CBRE, said: “We need to have a serious debate about how we are going to solve the housing crisis and boost the economic recovery, as this survey shows that attitudes are still slowing down development.”

    Simon Ricketts, head of law firm SJ Berwin’s planning and environment group, said: “These stark figures lead to an inevitable question: what was the purpose of the government’s localism agenda?

    “Contrary to whatever politicians may say, the powers given to communities by the Localism Act and the rolling back of regional housing targets appear to have not encouraged the public to support development.”

    The most nimby regions are the South West, the South East and the West Midlands, according to the survey, while the areas most pro development are the North East, the North West and Wales.