MWT response to consultation on the Manx planning system

Monday 15th January 2018

Isle of Man from spaceIsle of Man from space

We have just submitted our response to a far reaching and complex consultation on the Manx planning system. While the statement from the Government mentions the environment, it is sadly lacking from the 55 questions involved.

Planning Consultation Summary

“This is an opportunity to help Government to make the right decisions for the planning system and prepare properly to bring these changes into operation.

Your views will be helpful whether your experience is of the planning application process, the preparation of a local or area plan or the environment or heritage aspects of our Island.”

Best Practice in planning integrates the needs of the environment and the human population, contributing to urban and rural renewal and providing its own infrastructure support through clean water, pollination, places to explore and relax and ultimately allowing ecosystems to support our quality of life. Planning requires two functions; both the strategic and forward facing spatial planning, alongside development control.

Quality spatial planning is the foundation of sustainable development, with its three pillars of the economy, society and the environment. If we do not have a fit for purpose system we cannot protect or enhance our environment, or have active informed participation in our future vision for the Island. There are six key areas within which we made comments, and here we summarise our response and what is needed for a positive planning system adequately meeting the needs we all have from the environment into the future. 

To make sure the Government makes the right decisions, the natural environment needs to be rooted in decision-making, as it clearly should be for a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The planning system also needs to be properly resourced; the key ingredient to speed up and have a more effective process. This is more than adequate staff numbers, but also expertise in right areas and funding. We would propose that there is the creation of a Planning Ecologist position similar to that found elsewhere; supporting the two planning teams and potentially also applicants. 

Development Plan Process

This system is important to take a longer-term and strategic forward-looking approach to planning and its requirements. Changes are suggested to enable a different system to be implemented but it is important that the system keeps some required elements while making improvements.

• Assessment of cumulative impacts is a requirement
• Ecological Planning expertise housed in planning teams or accessible to them
• Greater guidance to adequately consider and include the natural environment in the planning system is required

Engaging the Public in the Planning Process

Transparent and inclusive planning processes are important for democratic and accountable operation of the planning system, but this should support decision-making rather than becoming obstructive. 

• Enabling full public participation requires support and resourcing
• Local Community Plans could work well and better support local wildlife
• It could be a route to enable better local delivery for the needs of biodiversity and Local Authority duties (e.g. Section 36 of the Wildlife Act 1990)
• Independent scrutiny, such as suggestions for mechanisms/groups under Section 40 of the Town and Country Planning Act (section 40 1 (a) for the environment), would work well.

Planning Application Process

Better guidance, and the improvements to the application process, should support consideration for wildlife and the environment from the start. This requires greater guidance, updating of forms, and more accessible and relevant information. 

• Improvements would be made through addressing gaps in ecological expertise in planning
• Engaging statutory and non-statutory stakeholders early in the planning process.
• Having a clear pre-application process and guidance to ensure ecological issues are addressed from the outset and applications are supported with the right survey and assessment information.
• Any permitted development right must be subject to the appropriate environmental exclusions, and there should be better identification of environmentally sensitive areas.
• Ecological survey timing and expertise should be better understood by the planning process and applicants. 

Decision Making Process

Adequate information is required at the correct time to enable more robust decision making in planning. The earlier this is completed, or understood, the more efficient the process will be. Plus, relevant and genuine challenge to application keeps it fit-for-purpose. 

• There is concern about pre-commencement conditions requiring additional ecological survey work. All survey works should be carried out prior, in a timely fashion, to inform the decision-making process. By carrying out survey work after the decision has been made the results of such work become almost negligible.
• Emphasise should be given to the need for ecological survey data to be made available during, and not after, decision-making by planning authority, which should be appropriately resourced and empowered, to enable them to carry out this function effectively.
• Third Party rights to appeal are integrated in modern planning (e.g. Ireland and South Australia), and could be complimented by oversight such as Section 40 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1999. 

Heritage and Rural Protections

There is a clear need to have better consideration of our natural environment and wildlife in planning, it is sadly lacking in the current consultation. While reviews for other areas are suggested, an equivalent is demonstrably needed for a Natural Environment Policy Statement to comprehensively address weakness in the environment. Alongside this, and as part of it, we need a clear vision for the future of our countryside and natural environment. This is necessary to avoid the slow degradation and erosion of it through development or the cumulative impacts they generate. 

• A clear strategic vision for the future of our countryside and land use, with relevant guidance developed, is needed.
• More use of Environmental Impact Assessment, the Mitigation Hierarchy and adequate review of alternative sites for avoidance and evidencing national need. 

Infrastructure Provision

More adequate provision for infrastructure could both be assessed and provided through improvements to the planning system. This should integrate Green Infrastructure approaches to enable benefits from our natural environment to help support local communities (access, recreation, flood management etc). 

• Use of a Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) could be very positive if it contributes to a strategic and high-quality plan for infrastructure need.
• Use of both CIL and Section 13 agreements to support our natural infrastructure including Local Wildlife Sites.
• It is now clear that our natural environment is also part of national infrastructure, and should be treated as such. Improvements would be greater use of Green Infrastructure and a much broader strategic vision for the future of our environment. 

CIEEM Best Practice

Building With Nature

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