Land use planning laws in Great Britain may not be on your radar screen. But some interesting things -- besides the 2012 Summer Olympics -- are happening over there that may just make their way to Oregon. Last July, Britain’s Planning Minister proposed that Parliament adopt a new “National Planning Policy Framework” that would make significant changes to Britain’s land use planning laws. Depending on your particular political viewpoint, the changes would either (a) remove burdensome planning rules that are stifling real estate development and hampering Britain’s economy, or (ii) remove important environmental protection rules that preserve Britain’s countryside and other natural and historic resources.
The proposed changes included a general policy statement that “[p]lanning must operate to encourage growth and not act as an impediment.” The most controversial change proposed that Britain’s planning system be based on a presumption that development should be allowed, and a requirement that local authorities be flexible, not delay projects, and approve proposed developments where local plans do not specifically address whether the development should be permitted or not. The language was strong:
“At the heart of the planning system is a presumption in favour of sustainable development, which should be seen as a golden thread running through both plan making and decision taking. Local planning authorities should plan positively for new development, and approve all individual proposals wherever possible. Local planning authorities should:
• prepare Local Plans … with sufficient flexibility to respond to rapid shifts in demand or other economic changes
• approve development proposals that accord with statutory plans without delay; and
• grant permission where the plan is absent, silent, indeterminate or where relevant policies are out of date.
All of these policies should apply unless the adverse impacts of allowing development would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits, when assessed against the policies in this Framework taken as a whole.”
Perhaps the strongest statement followed this passage, where the Framework required that “[d]ecision-takers at every level should assume that the default answer to development proposals is ‘yes,’ except where this would compromise the key sustainable development principles set out in this Framework.”
Not surprisingly, environmental and conservation groups opposed much of this language that, in their view, would put much of Britain’s natural resources at risk. To some degree, their voices were heard, and several changes were made to the Framework before the final version was issued last month. Those changes included amending the planning principles to include “recognising the intrinsic character and beauty of the countryside and supporting thriving rural communities within it.” In addition, while the a presumption of sustainable development was retained, the language that required local authorities to “approve all individual proposals wherever possible” and stating “the default answer to development proposals is ‘yes,’” was deleted.
In its attempt to address its economic slowdown, Britain has wrestled with reforming its planning policies to promote and encourage economic development, while also preserving natural and historic resources. If the Oregon economy continues to suffer, a similar scene may very well play out here.
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