The Showroom Cinema was the setting for a day’s session looking at ‘contention within planning’, ranging from consideration of the challenges associated with developing minerals, waste and major energy related infrastructure as well as the continuing relevance/value of Green Belt.
National Grid’s planning supremo, Hector Pearson kicked proceedings with a presentation on the planning regime for new electricity and gas networks. Hector outlined Grid’s portfolio of national projects, including the Yorkshire Carbon Capture and Storage proposal which will reuse former gas pipes to take CO2 out to redundant caverns under the North Sea from power stations like Drax. He explained the NSIP process for new projects including the role of National Policy Statements and the need for good public engagement.
This latter point was also mentioned by every other speaker during the course of the day. All extolled the virtues of meaningful engagement with affected communities although as Nabarro’s Rebecca Roffe noted, this isn’t possible if they deliberately decide not to play ball. Rebecca warned of the legal pitfalls that can derail projects including failure to comply with the Environmental Impact Assessment and Habitat Regulations.
According to West Somerset Council’s Chief Planner, Andrew Goodchild it isn’t always that clear what the Local Planning Authority’s role is in the NSIP process – certainly little reference was explicitly made to his Council’s Core Strategy or Local Impact Report by the Panel in their report on the Development Consent Order for the proposed Hinckley Point C Nuclear Powerstation, but the Authority did manage to secure over £200 million of community benefit from this £16 billion scheme, due for operational commissioning in 2023.
And it was securing sustainable community benefits, especially economic ones that Derbyshire’s Head of Planning, Rob Murfin saw as an important planning objective in such projects, rather than just avoidance of harm. For Rob, planners in the public sector need to facilitate fair, democratic and transparent decision-making so that all parties feel well-treated and properly engaged even if they don’t agree with the ‘binary’ outcome of this process of conflict resolution. Neither planners (nor developers) should be dismissive of local concerns – people ought to be given respect when they engage in planning issues. *After many years of practice Rob has concluded that good planning is simply the application of common sense.
Common sense didn’t seem to be evident in the drafting of certain historic Green Belt boundaries in South Yorkshire in the view of Paul Bedwell from Spawforth’s. Paul reviewed the history of Green Belt and asked if Green Belt is fit for purpose. He also outlined the recent case of Nick Boles ‘intervention’ into the Reigate and Banstead Local Plan Inspector’s recommendation for a Green Belt review, comparing this to recent events with the Leeds Core Strategy.
Paul’s Green Belt boundary howlers were in contrast with the care demonstrated by RPS in their recent work to extract stone from Burntwood Quarry in the Peak District National Park for the £27 restoration of nearby Chatsworth House. One delegate questioned whether Environmental Impact Assessment was needed for this relatively small project but Jonathan Standen from RPS explained the Estate’s desire to demonstrate high standards of environmental conduct and good community relations.
This emphasis on creating long term interaction and harmony with stakeholders was again echoed by the last speaker of the day, Simon Collingwood from communication and consultation experts Counter Context. He challenged the audience to consider how they would define a ‘good neighbour’ because this is the yardstick by which developers are generally judged.
Hats off to Sheffield Hallam University for organising a great day and to their Planning School Head, Karen Escott for steering us through a very stimulating agenda.