A blog about planning, planning law and planning policy


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Or are lawyers still the number 1 bogeymen?

The Commons debate on the NPPF  threw up much adverse comment about the Inspectorate, but we lawyers came in for plenty as well.

I particularly liked Greg Clark’s reply when, having opened the debate with a list of congratulations from many former sworn enemies of the NPPF, he was asked by Roberta Blackman-Woods, Labour MP for the Durham City:  “Did the Minister receive letters of congratulation from planning lawyers?”

“Not especially,” he replied, “but I hope they will have time on their hands in future to engage in some retraining.”

Towards the end of the debate Jack Dromey, came up with: “I am surprised that among the tributes read out on Tuesday there was not one from planning lawyers, because Ministers are the toast of planning lawyers. They believe that homes will be built as a consequence of the new NPPF, but they will be homes in Marbella—second homes for planning lawyers who make a killing on the back of the confusion and uncertainty that the Government are creating.” (I think Mr Dromey needs to improve the quality of his research – I carried out a quick straw poll and couldn’t find any planning lawyers who wanted to have a house in Marbella.)

There is a strange relationship between Parliamentarians and lawyers.  The largest profession in the House of Commons has long been lawyers.  It was lawyers who were in the vanguard of the crucial assertion of the right of Parliament to control the Executive in the seventeenth century, when courageous lawyer MPs such as John Hampden made a stand over ship money and other untrammelled powers of the King.  But in more recent times, we see apparent jealousy about the role of lawyers.  This was particularly so in the previous Government’s reaction to the length of time it took to get a decision over Terminal 5.  There were many references to highly paid lawyers with the inference that they make unjustified profit out of the system.

The case on T5 has never really been properly investigated.  It is my understanding that the decision making was considerably lengthened by the lack of and changes in Government policy and the changing  position of the Highways Agency/Department of Transport.  It also took the Government, who called in the application within three weeks of submission, two years to arrange for the inquiry to start.

But we should consider why lawyers are involved in the planning system.  Every person wishes to put his or her case in the most persuasive way possible, to win, and there are no prizes for coming second.   Those blessed with confidence, gifts of oratory and clear writing will be able to make a good job presenting their own point of view.  (We see this daily in Parliament.)  But not everyone has those gifts, the directors of project promoters do not need them every day and nor do they know their way around the arguments, policy and law.  The same goes for objectors.  So it is important that promoters and objectors can call on someone to do that for them.  We call these people advocates, and in the main they are lawyers.  But we should be quite clear; normally, anyone can have a friend to help them put their case. Even in the Law Courts, a MacKenzie Man can assist.  This is an important freedom, the freedom to bring in a helper, the freedom to appoint someone to act on one’s behalf.

I am glad to be on record, on this blog, with my support for the NPPF. The first point in my consultation response was: “I support the concept of a clear concise statement of planning policy. When the Planning Policy Guidance Notes were introduced in 1989 they were short and to the point.  Now they are lengthy and repetitious.   This makes the planning process expensive and difficult.”

But we should recognise that all change creates uncertainty.  And where there is uncertainty there will be disputes. Which have to be settled.  So yes, the changes wrought by the NPPF are going to lead to more appeals, in which solicitors, barristers, town planners, planning consultants, surveyors, architects, engineers  and many other professions will be involved. But what would we rather have – the thousand pages of repetitious advice, or concise policies we can understand?

So with that in mind, I offer you a round-up of the references to lawyers in the Commons debate on the NPPF:

Roberta Blackman-Woods:   A recent survey of town planners revealed that 86% believed the NPPF would lead to more appeals because of the lack of certainty in the planning system and the vagueness of much of its language. No wonder that many are calling it a planning lawyer’s dream.

Clive Betts: What does a “limited degree of conflict” mean? There is an awful lot of room for an awful lot of lawyers to argue about that and make quite a bit of money.

What does “degree of consistency” with the framework mean? Ministers may think they know what it means, but lawyers may have a different view and two lawyers may have two different views, and that can lead to an awful lot of expense, delay and, perhaps, the wrong decisions.

Chris Heaton-Harris: I think the hon. Gentleman will find that two lawyers will have a number of different views.

Tristram Hunt: …the hostility towards proper regulation has turned a planning document into a lawyers’ charter.

Here is a picture of a planning lawyer.

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