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Gove Plans French-Style Planning Rules For England (Or Not)


Is Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Communities and Housing, planning a French-style radical centralisation of planning policy?

That is the concern raised by a legal counsel’s opinion on his new planning legislation. 

Anxiety has now prompted the chair of the House of Commons Select Committee on Levelling Up, Communities and Housing to write to Gove to seek clarification.

The latest flurry about a 'dirigiste' French system of centralised planning follows a counsels’ opinion produced by Paul Brown Q.C. and Alex Shattock of London's Landmark Chambers, on the instruction of activist group Rights: Community: Action.

The French planning system is notoriously centralised, allowing national projects to go ahead despite local opposition.

Concerns were echoed at a subsequent evidence session before the committee on 20 June 2022. Experts giving evidence included Victoria Hills, chief executive, Royal Town Planning Institute; Hugh Ellis, Policy Director, Town and Country Planning Association; and Christopher Young QC.

The counsels’ opinion showed how draft legislation removes the primacy of local development plans and gives national guidelines, and leaves ministers with “almost unlimited discretion”.

The bill "positively prohibits" a local plan from being inconsistent with any national development management policy and introduces a requirement that any conflict between the development plan and a national development management policy “must be resolved in favour of the national development management policy”.

The only definition in the Levelling Up Bill of a national development management policy is “a policy (however expressed) of the Secretary of State in relation to the development or use of land in England, or any part of England, which the Secretary of State by direction designates as a national development management policy”.

There are no obligations to consult the public on national policy, or opportunities for public involvement.

A government spokesperson said the national powers would be restricted to heritage and green belt issues and “were not about overruling local plans,” Architects Journal reported.

The Levelling Up Bill faces a long parliamentary journey before it becomes law: The House of Commons committee stage, which considers detailed amendments, began this week. It must pass two further Commons stages, and travel successfully through the more perilous territory of the House of Lords.