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Law Commission calls for new planning code for Wales

A new planning code for Wales is needed to get the country building and further protect heritage and the environment, says the Law Commission.

The independent law reform agency said that “complex and overlapping planning laws – contained in over 30 Acts of Parliament – slow down the development process, confuse applicants for planning permission and generate unnecessary bureaucracy and cost”.

The Law Commission said it could be tricky for specialist legal professionals to get planning applications right, let alone the general public, under the current regime.

It added that it was difficult to find the planning law that is applicable in Wales. “Much of it is unclear, and most of it is not available in Welsh. And the application process is unnecessarily bureaucratic.”

It has launched a consultation, Planning Law in Wales, proposing a range of improvements, including:

  • Making the law clearer – by bringing together the 30 different Acts into one, and eliminating the parts that only apply in England
  • Emphasising the importance of the development plan
  • Making it easier to discover when permission or consent is needed
  • Simplifying the process of getting permission – introducing a single system of planning applications, "containing enough detail to enable everyone to know what is proposed, but with authorities able to reserve details for later approval"
  • Making it more straightforward to amend an existing permission
  • Bringing together the various ways to provide infrastructure made necessary by development, by including the Community Infrastructure Levy in the planning system
  • Repealing obsolete legislation, unused for many years – including those for urban development corporations, new towns, simplified planning zones, planning inquiry commissions, and archaeological areas – "and even some hangovers from the 1940s"
  • Avoiding overlapping systems of control, by bringing together applications for listed building consent, conservation area consent and planning permission, whilst maintaining existing levels of protection for heritage

Law Commissioner Nicholas Paines QC said: “It’s clear we need to build more homes in Wales, and the law is not helping. It has grown up over many decades and even experienced professionals struggle to find a way through the jungle of Acts, rules and regulations. This leads to delay, mistakes and frustration.

“Wales needs a new Planning Code – to bring the law into one place, sweep away bureaucratic procedures, and save money for councils. And at the same time provide lasting protection for Wales’s historic buildings and unique environment.”

The consultation runs until 1 March 2018. The Law Commission will then produce a final report to the Welsh Government, which will inform the production of the new Planning Code. The Code is expected to obtain Royal Assent in 2020.