JULY 8, 2008

Planning permission in England

Donington Park says it will be the home of the British Grand Prix by 2010, but there are many obstacles to be got over before that announcement becomes a reality. Even assuming that the money is there, the question of planning permission is not something that can be treated lightly, particularly with racing circuits, where there are specific problems with noise, traffic jams and so on.

We are told by those in the business that it is quite usual for any developer to consult the local planning authority before an application is made, the intention being to iron out problems before the application is formalised. This helps to save time, but it is all informal. It is also quite normal for a developer to have discussions with the highway authorities as well.

However, all this does not alter the fact that an application needs to be formally submitted and once that has happened a local planning authority is obliged to follow the due planning process, including posting signs around the area, inviting representations from supporters and objectors. Advertising the application in the local paper, again inviting representations. Writing with formal notice of application to the neighbouring residents.

There is bound to be some opposition, if only from people known as NIMBYs (an acronym for Not In My Back Yard). Often new projects meet objections because those who live nearest to the venue consider the development to be undesirable, even if they understand it has a value for the region. This is normal with airports, racing circuits, power stations, prisons and incinerators but happens all the time with road upgrades as well. NIMBYs will pressure local councils, county councils and even MPs. An if there are other issues such as public footpaths in car parks, this can delay decisions for lengthy periods of time.

There is a statutory eight week period for the authority to consider the application and, more often than not, there is then a request from the authority for an extension to that period.

Ultimately, it is a planning committee that decides on any application. The views of a planning officer are taken into account but they are only recommendations and his or her views may be based on transport studies, council guidelines or policy statements rather than non-planning factors such as the economic impact of a development. The East Midlands Airport might, for example, object on economic grounds, the airlines will not be keen on their services being disrupted. The East Midlands Development Corporation has been a big supporter of the airport, but has also been promoting Silverstone as well. Road development may be possible but there will be big problems if there are any compulsory purchase orders required, as that will require more bureaucracy. And things are complicated at Donington (as at Silverstone) because there will be two planning authorities involved. One may say yes, the other no.

In many cases relating to racing circuits the decision may end up going beyond a planning committee to the full council and perhaps even to a Secretary of State for a decision, even if the local planners approve a project.

All of this is going to take time.

The idea that work can begin at Donington within a few weeks is pure fantasy. Perhaps in a year from now, assuming of course that the money is in place by then...